No National Test this Year for FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System
Due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency reponse, FEMA will not conduct a national test of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) this year.
FEMA is moving the next national test of the system to 2021 out of consideration for the unusual circumstances and working conditions for those in the broadcast and cable industry. Although systems remain in place for rapid automatic transmission of the test message by broadcast and cable operators, the follow-on reporting activities associated with a national test place additional burdens on technical staff that are already quite busy maintaining as close to normal operation as possible.
IPAWS is a national system for local alerting that provides authenticated emergency alert and information messaging to the public through cell phones and internet applications using Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), and to radio and television via the Emergency Alert System (EAS). Emergency officials across the country have sent more than 360 important safety messages on the COVID-19 pandemic to their residents via WEA and EAS.
FEMA is required by law to test IPAWS at least every three years. The national WEA capability was most recently tested in conjunction with the EAS in 2018.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, MEDIA SHOULD CONTACT THE FEMA NEWS DESK AT (202) 646-3272 OR FEMA-NEWS-DESK@FEMA.DHS.GOV.
2019 IPAWS National Test of the Emergency Alert System
FEMA, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), State Broadcasters, and Emergency Managers, conducted a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on Aug. 7, 2019 at 2:20 p.m. EDT. The test assessed the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determined whether improvements are needed.
This was the fifth EAS nationwide test. Previous EAS national tests were conducted in November 2011, September 2016 and 2017, and October 2018, in collaboration with the FCC, radio and televisions stations, and emergency management officials.
The intent of 2019’s test was to evaluate the readiness of the national alerting capability in the absence of internet connectivity. The 2019 will began with broadcast of the national test message from radio stations, called Primary Entry Point or PEP stations, that participate with FEMA in the National Public Warning System, a component of the IPAWS. Other radio and television broadcast and cable stations in each state that monitor PEP stations received and broadcast the test message so that within minutes the test message was presented by all radio and television, cable, wireline service providers and direct broadcast satellite service providers nationwide.
The EAS is a national public warning system that provides the President with the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency. The test is made available to EAS participants (i.e., radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers) and is scheduled to last approximately one minute.
The audio test message was similar to regular monthly EAS test messages with which the public is familiar: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. No action is required.” The text displayed at the top or center of television screens read: “A Primary Entry Point system has issued a National Periodic Test for all of the United States beginning at 2:20 PM and ending at 2:50 PM."
Significant coordination was conducted with EAS participants and emergency managers in preparation for the test. The test was intended to ensure public safety officials have the methods and systems that will deliver urgent alerts and warnings to the public in times of an emergency or disaster.
In the event of a national emergency, a national warning message would be issued at the direction of the President or his/her designee and activated by FEMA.
Frequently Asked Questions About the IPAWS National Test
- What is the Emergency Alert System?
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that requires EAS Participants (i.e. radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers) to provide the President with the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency. The system also may be used by state, local, tribal and territorial authorities, in cooperation with EAS Participants, to deliver important emergency information, such as weather information, AMBER alerts, and local incident information targeted to specific areas.
FEMA, in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is responsible for implementation, maintenance, and operations of the EAS at the federal level. The President has sole responsibility for determining when the national-level EAS will be activated. FEMA is responsible for national-level EAS, tests, and exercises.
2. What is the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS)?
IPAWS is a national system for local alerting. It provides the means for disseminating authenticated emergency alert and warning messaging from emergency officials to the public through:
- Radio and television via the Emergency Alert System (EAS);
- Wireless phones via Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs);
- NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio via IPAWS-NOAA gateway; and
- Internet applications and websites via the IPAWS Alerts Feed.
The FEMA IPAWS Program is responsible for implementing a national public alert and warning system, ensuring that the President can send alert and warning messages to the public under all conditions, and enabling its use by federal, state, local, tribal and territorial officials during local emergencies. Executive Order 13407 tasked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assign FEMA with developing, operating, integrating, and maintaining IPAWS, plus future connections alerting technologies.
3. Why does the FEMA IPAWS Program conduct national tests of public alert and warning systems?
The IPAWS Modernization Act of 2015 (Public Law 114-143) requires the FEMA IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) to conduct, not less than once every three years, a nationwide EAS test of the public alert and warning system. The Act, which became law in April 2016, requires FEMA to help ensure that under all conditions the President can alert and warn the civilian population in areas endangered by natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters or threats to public safety.
The IPAWS PMO, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission, tests the IPAWS’s emergency communications pathways — including the Emergency Alert System. The testing process is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks and assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether technological improvements are needed. Testing will ensure an effective and reliable system exists to provide timely and accurate alerts to the public. After each test, an after-action report and improvement plan is created and incorporated into future testing to ensure continual advancement of alert and warning capabilities.
4. What if real-world event happens on test day?
In the event widespread severe weather or another significant event occurs on Aug. 7, the test will be moved to the back-up date of Aug. 21.
5. What are the benefits of testing?
The national tests assess IPAWS message delivery pathways, and encourage communication and strengthen relationships between the broadcast, wireless and emergency management communities. Ultimately, the information obtained from the tests increase awareness, understanding, and adoption of IPAWS by all partners and the public.
6. What is FEMA doing to make the test message more accessible?
The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) is exploring several initiatives to make national tests more widely accessible to those with access and functional needs, and limited English proficiency. The IPAWS PMO is working with all participants and stakeholders to identify and engage with public- and private-sector organizations with the capability to make emergency message dissemination more effective, inclusive, and resilient.
7. Where can I provide feedback?
FEMA invites the public to send comments on the 2019 nationwide EAS test to FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov.
The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) has helped create a public service annoucement in American Sign Language (ASL) on the 2019 national test. The video is available for use; guidelines can be found here.
Still Have a Question? Contact Us About the IPAWS National Test...
A dedicated mailbox has been created for all questions relating to the IPAWS National Test. Please e-mail us at FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov.