When something bad is happening, everyone needs good information—and every second counts.
That’s why the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) created a national alerting system, which is known to public safety officials as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System or IPAWS.
IPAWS is designed to be an effective, reliable, emergency communications system that’s used by state, local, territorial, tribal and federal public safety officials. It’s important to remember, however, that FEMA’s IPAWS system is a public warning system, not a public notification system. The IPAWS infrastructure acts as a gateway to receive and authenticate geographically-targeted alerts and warnings.
Because of the IPAWS’ ability to rapidly disseminate important information, the system has saved many people’s lives:
- Local public safety officials in Boston alerted the public to shelter-in-place while authorities searched for a suspect in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing;
- Five camp counselors and 29 students in East Windsor, Conn. were saved when cell phones alerted them to take cover moments before a tornado blew off the top of the sports dome;
- Last year, more than 600 people in a Washington, Illinois church service were saved when cell phones alerted the public about a tornado in the area.
- An AMBER Alert sent to Minneapolis resulted in a teenager leading police to safely recover an abducted child.
- Residents in Elmira, N.Y., received alerts about an impending tornado in 2012.
The key to this success has been a successful partnership among many different organizations. For example, FEMA maintains IPAWS but doesn’t issue alerts. Rather, others such as the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and public safety officials use IPAWS to simultaneously to send the same message through multiple communication pathways:
- Radio and television through the Emergency Alert System;
- Cellular phones through Wireless Emergency Alerts or WEAs;
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s All-Hazards Weather Radio
- Internet applications and websites by way of the IPAWS All Hazards Alert Feed;
- Local and unique alerting systems including digital road signs, sirens, text-to-Braille translators, emergency telephone networks, etc.
FEMA continues to increase awareness and understanding of the IPAWS system, and it works to educate the public and public safety officials about alert and warning technologies. For example, through its youth outreach initiative, FEMA produced a WEA Fact Sheet for Kids that provides informational material and educational engagement activities, and is accompanied by a WEA Instructional Materials for Presenters.” FEMA also provides resources for the American people and alerting authorities. For more information on IPAWS, go to www/ready.gov/alerts or www.fema.gov/ipaws.
When life-saving information is received quickly and easily in many forms through radio, television, weather radio, the Internet and on personal cell phones, it will help more people to get out of harm’s way when a threat exists.