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Testing with the IPAWS Lab

The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) provides public safety officials with a controlled IPAWS testing environment where alert and warning technologies can be exercised to assess capabilities and effectiveness with IPAWS. 

The IPAWS Lab is a closed IPAWS environment capable of demonstrating alert dissemination to all IPAWS pathways including the Emergency Alert System (EAS), Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), Non-Weather Emergency Messages (NWEM), IPAWS All-Hazards Information Feed, and Collaborative Operating Groups (COG). The primary purpose of the IPAWS Lab is for public safety officials to gain confidence using IPAWS in a safe and closed environment. Additional purposes of the IPAWS Lab include alert and warning functional assessment, alert dissemination validation, training, procedural and process evaluation, and the establishment of functional requirements.

What capabilities exist at the IPAWS Lab?

  • An interactive and closed IPAWS environment used for testing and training
  • Large-scale to small-scale table-top exercise support
  • Independent alert validation tool (IPAWS Message Viewer)
  • Functional assessments
  • Developmental assessments
  • Demonstrations
  • Knowledgable staff who support testing and are available for troubleshooting
  • Conference center to host webinars, training, and technical demonstrations

The IPAWS Lab is located at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, Maryland. Under direction of the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC), a command of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), the IPAWS Lab supports independent testing and provides the FEMA IPAWS PMO with interoperability and functional assessments, operational tests, IPAWS demonstrations, and overall technical support.

There are three methods to test with the IPAWS Lab: on-site, off-site, and independently. The IPAWS PMO released a "Checklist for Testing with the IPAWS Lab", which is provided to alerting authorities when their test certificate is issued. The checklist is designed to provide best practices for testing alert and warning technologies within the IPAWS Lab environment. The IPAWS PMO also conducted a recorded webinar "Testing with the IPAWS Lab", which can be reviewed by anyone interested in testing IPAWS.

45AM Tue, April 16
At the IPAWS Lab, showing Digital Emergency Alert Systems and other various equipment used to test EAS

For alerting authorities wishing to test independently, the IPAWS PMO has developed an IPAWS Message Viewer. The Message Viewer is a web interface that interacts with the IPAWS Lab environment. It enables authorized alerting authorities to obtain alert validation independent of IPAWS Lab support. For a copy of the IPAWS Message Viewer Instructions, please email the PMO at ipaws@fema.dhs.gov.

The IPAWS Lab is a safe and effective environment for public safety officials to test and exercise alert and warning technologies interoperable with IPAWS. Training within the IPAWS Lab environment will increase the confidence of alerting authorities, ensuring that if they need to send an actual alert to the public, they will be able to do so quickly and effectively.

Contact the IPAWS PMO at ipaws@fema.dhs.gov with any questions about using or connecting to the testing and exercise environment.

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 nine 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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Last Updated: 
09/19/2018 - 17:37