IPAWS Tips

Every month the IPAWS Program Office will distribute a "tip" to emergency managers and software vendors. The tips will cover a wide range of topics, including best practices, recommendations, and current issues. After the tips are sent they will be posted for the public.

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Tip 44: Best Practices for Alerting Authorities Using Wireless Emergency Alerts for Public Alert, Warning & Notification

FEMA’s position on public alert, warning and notification (AWN) is that emergencies are local, and therefore it is the responsibility and discretion of elected local officials, or their designees, to provide timely notification to their jurisdiction(s). The decision to issue a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) to the public is a matter of local emergency official communication plans, policies and procedures.

Tip 43: Accessible Linked Content

Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) messages may contain links to web content. This content should be accessible to assistive technology that audibly reads information on the screen. Although some applications can read text embedded in images, ordinary text will be more usable.

Tip 42: Alerts with Audio

Alerting Authorities can add an MP3 audio file to their Common Alerting Protocol message for distribution via the Emergency Alert System .

Tip 41: WEA Geo-Targeting & 360 Characters

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) gained several enhancements in December 2019. These include the ability to target mobile phones within a polygon with limited overshoot, and to send 360-character messages. This should improve confidence that alerts can reach the intended audience, while expanding alert content. Where do we stand today with these enhancements?

Tip 40: NWEMs Over NOAA Weather Radio

Effective Summer 2021, the connection between FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) and NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) is online! After extensive development and testing to replace the HazCollect application, you can now send alerts through the National Weather Service gateway for dissemination to consumer NWR receivers and over other National Weather Service systems.

Tip 39: IPAWS Alerts – Distribution Pathways and Alert Coverage

The three main alert pathways of IPAWS are Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the Emergency Alert System (EAS), and Non-Weather Emergency Messages (NWEM). Alerting Authorities must understand alert coverage per pathway, especially the use of a polygon or circle to define the area to be alerted.

Tip 38: Imminent Threat vs. Public Safety

The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) enhancements of December 2019 included the addition of the Public Safety category to the list of WEA categories (i.e., WEA Handling Codes). There are now four categories of WEA available to Alerting Authorities: Imminent Threat, Public Safety, AMBER (with restriction), and WEA Test. We examine the differences and what alert category should you send.

TIP 37: The New IPAWS Message Viewer

The IPAWS Message Viewer has a new link. The Message Viewer enables Alerting Authorities to confirm successful alert message dissemination to the IPAWS Lab Environment. The Message Viewer can be used during your monthly proficiency demonstration, routine testing and training, or even a full-scale exercise.

TIP 36: The IPAWS Symbol Set

The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) brings you standardized symbols for every IPAWS Event Code through a joint effort with the National Alliance for Public Safety GIS (NAPSG) Foundation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Geospatial Management Office, and the DHS Science & Technology Directorate.

TIP 35: Test, Training, and Exercising Your IPAWS Capabilities

The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO), in collaboration with FEMA’s National Exercise Division (NED), brings you the IPAWS/Public Information and Warning After Action Trend Analysis, the IPAWS Exercise Starter Kit, and Exercise Support from the IPAWS Lab.

TIP 34: Inquiries Regarding the Performance of WEA Geo-targeting

To help address questions about alerts that are delivered to phones more than 1/10th of a mile outside of the target area or phones that do not receive an alert inside the targeted area, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon have established points of contact for inquiries from IPAWS authorized Alerting Authorities.

TIP 33: The IPAWS Lab 24/7 Technical Services Support Desk (TSSD)

The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) is pleased to announce the availability of the IPAWS Technical Services Support Desk (TSSD) 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, including holidays.

TIP 32: Choose Event Codes Carefully

Event Codes define the nature of an event. Emergency management must select an Event Code when sending Emergency Alert System (EAS) messages, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), and Non-Weather Emergency Messages (NWEM - future capability) via IPAWS. The IPAWS Office has created the Event Code Descriptions for Use with IPAWS Fact Sheet and offers examples of how Event Codes appear to the public.

TIP 31: Updating and Canceling Alerts

Disasters and emergencies often change, therefore, you might need to update or cancel an alert. IPAWS-Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN) provides Alerting Authorities the capability to update and cancel an alert.

TIP 30: Non-Weather Emergency Messages

During 2021, National Weather Service (NWS) offices will implement a new capability allowing Non-Weather Emergency Messages (NWEMs) to be channeled from IPAWS to NWS for broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). This capability is a replacement to the discontinued HazCollect program.

TIP 29: WEA and the Web

IPAWS enables alert originators to embed web addresses – Uniform Resource Locators or URLs – into Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs). URLs can link to additional information that normally wouldn’t fit in a WEA such as: more detailed instructions, multimedia, alternate languages, and links to products and services that assist those with disabilities and access and functional needs.

TIP 28: FCC Waivers for Live WEA Testing

WEA Tests differ from actual WEA alerts in order to reduce confusion and minimize any chance that they might be misconstrued as actual alerts. It is still possible to gain FCC permission to send a live alert to the public as a test. However, FCC permission for live tests is not automatic. Using live WEA for tests is reserved for special cases and a strong justification must be presented to the FCC for consideration.

TIP 27: WEA Testing…Which Event Code?

WEA testing allows you to assess the effectiveness of WEAs in your jurisdiction without disrupting the public while gaining confidence and proficiency. We encourage state and local emergency managers to use State/Local WEA Tests for end-to-end WEA testing, using the Required Weekly Test (RWT) event code.

TIP 26: How to Receive WEA Test Alerts on Android & IOS Phones

Most Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA)-capable phones can now receive a new WEA Alert Class: WEA Test. Recent models of Android and Apple iOS phones, and those upgraded to newer operating systems will have this setting available. However, these phones ordinarily ship to the customer with the WEA Test setting disabled. The phone user must take specific action to enable it to receive test alerts.
(reposted Oct 2022)

Special Notice Tip: Stay-at-Home vs. Shelter-in-Place as Related to COVID-19

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, some members of the public have expressed confusion related to the use of "Shelter-in-Place" vs. "Stay-at-Home" in public safety messaging. When sending a COVID-19-related message on the Emergency Alert System or as a Wireless Emergency Alert, use the CEM or "Civil Emergency Message" as the event code followed by instructions to the public that are appropriate for your jurisdiction.

Last updated July 6, 2022