IPAWS Emergency Alert System, WEA, NWS and NOAA Weather Radio, Under a Single Platform

The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) is an architecture that unifies the United States’ Emergency Alert System, National Warning System, Wireless Emergency Alerts, and NOAA Weather Radio, under a single platform. IPAWS was designed to modernize these systems by enabling alerts to be aggregated over a network and distributed to the appropriate system for public dissemination.

IPAWS is an addition to the older Emergency Alert System (EAS). EAS is used for sending emergency warnings over radio and TV. If you’ve heard a series of tones, sometimes called “duck quacks,” followed by a voice saying, “This is a test of the emergency alert system”, then you’ve heard EAS in action. Community radio stations have used EAS to save lives in times of emergency. Unfortunately, the system is fairly limited since EAS messages only contain brief, basic information. The new CAP protocol, however, allows these messages to carry extra text and audio as well as photos, video, and pdfs.

WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts, formerly known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System – CMAS) – is a subsystem of IPAWS that allows the issuing authority to disseminate urgent alerts to cellphones in the defined geographic area – without having recipients to opt into the notification system. A typical example of WEA alerts you see most often are Amber or Silver Alerts – for child abductions or lost senior citizens. WEA is currently being extensively adopted as an emergency communication tool across the cities and counties in the USA.

Increasingly WEA technology is now being used for emergency communication and protection at infrastructure objects that are considered at increased risk of impact by the Department of Homeland Security: these include stadiums, expo centers and college campuses. With WEA3.0 technology now being supported by advanced IPAWS origination tools like Genasys, it is possible to define a strict polygon around the object and initiate alert within that polygon only (with expected bleed over of no more than 1/10 of a mile) without triggering devices in the same FIPS code, but beyond the polygon scope.

Genasys IPAWS & FEMA at IAEM 2019

As every emergency manager knows, practice makes perfect. The more you test and activate the system, the better your operators will be in case of an actual emergency. But how do you practice on WEA when a significant amount of devices still in circulation does not yet support WEA 3.0 and will trigger even if they are not included in the notification area? There are a couple of approaches to this.

One, is to have a test environment included by the originating tool provider. At Genasys we offer ability to publish to “Test” feed and switch to Live feed when every single parameter of the alert has been finalized and vetted. The tool provides a clear visual clue when publishing to live feed, so operators always have a way to tell if they are in test or live publish mode.

The second option is to conduct actual tests on live environment, but publish test messages that are received only by the devices that have been explicitly opted into the test message mode, and ignored by every other device. Since WEA 2.0 two additional categories called “RWT” (Required Weekly Test) and “RMT” (Required Monthly Test) have been introduced into WEA publishing categories.

Enabling the option to receive test messages on Android is a fairly trivial matter: search for “Emergency Alerts” in settings and enable “State and local tests” option which is disabled by default. On iPhone the option is concealed quite a bit more. Open the Phone app and type in the following code: *5005*25371#, then press Call – now your phone is opted in. To opt out, dial *5005*25370#.

Now you can participate in test messages issued by your organization and verify that everything looks right and delivered as expected.

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