This section contains a description of the process public safety officials undergo to apply for access to use IPAWS to send public alerts and warnings.
A federal, state, local, tribal or territorial alerting authority that applies for authorization to use IPAWS is designated as a Collaborative Operating Group or “COG” by the IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO). There are currently numerous types of COGs affiliated with IPAWS varying in size, structure and governance styles. A COG may have members from multiple jurisdictions with each individual member account administered through its software system.
Step #1 – Complete IPAWS web-based training
FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) offers the independent study course, IS-247 Integrated Public Alert and Warning System for Alert Originators. The goal of the course is to provide authorized public safety officials with:
- Increased awareness of the benefits of using Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) for effective alerts and warnings
- Improved skills to draft more appropriate, effective, and accessible alert and warning messages
- Increased understanding of the importance of training, testing, and exercising with IPAWS
- Best practices in the effective use of IPAWS to reach members of the public
The course should take approximately two hours to complete and is a prerequisite for full access to IPAWS-OPEN for the purpose of public alerting. FEMA does not provide training on third-party alert authoring software. Contact your vendor for any software support questions.
Once training is completed, submit the IS 247 training certificates to IPAWS.
Additionally, EMI offers the optional course, IS-251 Integrated Public Alert and Warning System for Alerting Administrators. The goal of the course is to provide authorized alerting administrators guidance with:
- Developing effective policies, plans, and procedures
- Defining the approval process
- Defining the importance of training, practice, and exercising with IPAWS
- Illustrating best practices and effective use of IPAWS to reach members of the public
Step #2 – Select IPAWS compatible software
Access to IPAWS is free. To send a message using IPAWS, however, an organization must procure its own IPAWS-compatible software. Software should be successfully tested in the IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN) test environment and should meet the critical capabilities recommended by IPAWS. Consult with your software developer to ensure your system is IPAWS-OPEN compatible and provides the capabilities that your organization requires. For a list of private sector developers who have successfully tested in the IPAWS-OPEN environment, please see:
- IPAWS-OPEN Developers
- IPAWS Critical Capabilities Letter, February 2015
- IPAWS Critical Capabilities Letter, May 2017
Step #3 – Apply for a Memorandum of Agreement with FEMA
To become a COG, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) must be executed between the sponsoring organization and FEMA. The MOA governs interoperability and security across emergency response organizations and systems. Each MOA is tailored to the sponsoring organization and their interoperable software system. To apply for IPAWS access, please send an email to IPAWS@fema.dhs.gov, with the subject line "COG Application." We will then provide you with an application form and instructions to begin the process. (Additionally, you can access the MOA Application on the Informational Materials page.) Once the complete MOA Application has been received by IPAWS, the Customer Support Branch will prepare the MOA for signature and return it to the sponsoring organization with a COG Identification (ID) number. After being signed by the applicant, the MOA will be routed for FEMA signatures.
Step #4 – Apply for public alerting permissions
Alerting authorities that want to send alerts to the public through IPAWS must complete an application defining the types of alerts they intend to issue and the extent of their geographic warning area. The application for IPAWS public alerting authority will be provided when you apply for a COG MOA, along with contact information for a designated state reviewer. In order to ensure consistency with state and tribal public alerting plans, the application must be reviewed and signed by a designated state official or tribal leadership before it is submitted to FEMA.
What to Expect
A copy of the executed MOA will be returned to the sponsoring organization along with a digital certificate that is needed to configure the IPAWS compatible software system. By completing steps 1 through 3, the organization will have the capability to exchange standards-compliant messages and content between COGs.
Once the public alerting application is received specific alerting permissions will be implemented in IPAWS-OPEN. At that point the individual members specified by the COG will be able to send alerts and warnings in the geographically prescribed areas.
Initial functionality includes the ability to access and send alerts through:
- Emergency Alert System (EAS)
- National Weather Service (NWS) All-Hazards Emergency Message Collection System for NWS-approved alerting authorities
- Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), depending on local implementation by commercial mobile service providers
- IPAWS All-Hazards Information Feed (Internet services)
See the IPAWS Alerting Authorities web page for a list of organizations with public alerting authority completed.