Slowly, more emergency managers are using FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to send emergency alerts. But the numbers could be better.
The government is also inviting alert originators and IPAWS-OPEN software developers to use its IPAWS Laboratory for testing purposes.
IPAWS now has some 148 operational users; 93 of those have the authority to send an alert to the public using the FEMA-IPAWS Web-based message origination system through Commercial Mobile Alert Service or EAS. With CMAS, major and rural cellphone carriers tie into IPAWS to send 90-character text-based alerts.
FEMA IPAWS Chief Engineer Mark Lucero says the latest usage stats show 28 IPAWS Collaborative Operating Group users have been active — that’s out of 93.
At some 234,000 alerts, the NWS has used IPAWS to send the most emergency messages. Subtracting NWS, the system has received a total of some 566 other messages, Lucero said during a FEMA webinar Wednesday.
According to the latest figures, some 20 messages were sent over CMAS and 81 were sent using EAS. Of the EAS messages, many of those were required weekly or monthly tests.
Saying that radio and TV stations have put “a great amount of money” into upgrading their EAS gear, Lucero said “no one’s really using” IPAWS for EAS except to send test alerts.
It’s not clear why more emergency managers aren’t using the system. However it’s key to note that regular tests that do not go out to the public are required for EAS. Current federal regulation does not permit live testing for CMAS, according to Lucero, who noted that the NWS, FCC and carriers are reevaluating that.
He encouraged alert authorities to become qualified to use IPAWS. The procedures to do that are detailed here.
FEMA has invited developers and alert originators to use FEMA test laboratory at the Joint Interoperability Test Command in Indian Head, Md. “We have an IPAWS-OPEN system running there that is not connected to carriers nor broadcasters. It’s a safe environment to conduct tests,” said Lucero.
Using the lab remotely or on-site, alert originators can receive help crafting a message, and seeing how that message is displayed on a variety of devices.