This section contains information about testing of the public alert and warning systems across the country, benefits of testing, and testing initiatives.
Why Test Public Alert and Warning?
Why is the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Program Management Office (PMO) supporting tests of public alert and warning systems across the country?
The IPAWS Modernization Act, 2015 (Public Law 114-143) requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) IPAWS PMO to conduct, not less than once every three years, periodic nationwide tests of the public alert and warning system. The Act, ratified 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, along with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), employs an incremental approach to periodically test IPAWS’ emergency communications pathways. The testing process is designed to evaluate the interoperability of IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN) with state and local communications infrastructure and assess the operational readiness of the system’s architecture to ensure an effective and reliable system exists to provide timely and accurate alerts to the American 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.
What are the benefits of testing?
The IPAWS PMO’s effort to implement a standard methodology for testing will improve alerting authorities’ ability to send effective, geo-targeted, actionable alerts and warnings before, during, and after an actual emergency. These coordinated, statewide testing activities support the IPAWS PMO’s effort to mitigate system limitations, improve IPAWS message delivery pathways, and encourage communication and strengthen relationships between the broadcast and emergency management communities. Another testing benefit for private sector alert and warning partners is that tests are conducted in a no-fault environment, meaning there is no enforcement action from the FCC based on distribution success or failure at the IPAWS Supported State and Regional Tests (ISSRT) level. Ultimately, the information obtained from these sequential assessments will increase awareness, understanding, and adoption of IPAWS by all partners.
Public Alert and Warning Testing Initiatives
Since 2010, the IPAWS PMO has supported numerous tests of public alert and warning capabilities at the local, county, state, regional, and territorial level and, in 2011, the PMO conducted the first-ever nationwide Emergency Alert System (EAS) test across the U.S. and its territories. The purpose of the test was to assess the functionality of the legacy system for the President of the United States to address the public during times of extreme national emergency.
To conduct regular and comprehensive assessments of the capabilities and operational readiness of the nation’s alert and warning system, the IPAWS PMO developed a three-phase testing approach, referred to as the IPAWS National Test (INT).
- Phase I – Controlled test in the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) laboratory
- Phase II – Series of IPAWS Supported State and Regional Tests (ISSRT) using the National Periodic Test (NPT) message event code
- Phase III – Live end-to-end INT
In 2014, the IPAWS PMO began organizing Phase II, or ISSRTs, in voluntary coordination with state broadcasting associations and emergency management agencies to assess the operational readiness of the alert and warning system for delivery of a national-level message from origination to reception by the American public. The main objectives for the ISSRTs were to assess the functionality of IPAWS’ communications pathways, institute test findings to serve as a standard methodology for future tests development, and facilitate relationships between state emergency management, state emergency communications chairs, Primary Entry Point (PEP) station engineers, tribal leaders, and the broadcast community.
On September 17, 2014, at 2:00pm Eastern Standard Time (EST), the IPAWS PMO conducted the first ISSRT with the State of West Virginia, West Virginia Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, West Virginia State Emergency Communications Chair, and the West Virginia Broadcasters Association.
Subsequent to the West Virginia test findings, the IPAWS PMO supported a series of ISSRTs providing an opportunity for broadcast and cable operators to observe how their facilities process and broadcast incoming IPAWS alert messages prior to the nationwide testing. Testing efforts in November 2015 marked the first time that IPAWS was used to deliver an alert in a single message that could be broadcast in either Spanish or English. Phase II was completed in June 2016 with the succesful execution of 9 state/regional tests with a total of 46 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Full nationwide testing began following the implementation of new FCC Rules regarding National Periodic Test message handling and test reporting requirements. On September 28, 2016 at 2:20pm EDT FEMA orginated a NPT EAS message from the IPAWS Lab in Indian Head, Maryland. The test message was available in English and Spanish, including full message text and spoken word audio message. Approximately 95 percent of U.S. broadcast, satellite, and cable operators received the test message and approximately 88 percent successfully relayed the message. Broadcast, satellite, and cable system licensees were required to report information regarding their handling of the test via the FCC EAS Test Reporting System (ETRS). Results of a continuing analysis of the ETRS data will be shared with state emergency managers, alerting authorities, and State Emergency Communication Committees (SECCs) in an effort to improve and enhance alerting at the state and local level.
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