IPAWS Newsletter - Fall 2022

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IPAWS Newsletter

Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) • Issue 5, Fall 2022

From FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell
Best Practices on Sending WEAs
IPAWS-OPEN 4.01 Release Coming
Canceling & Updating WEAs
IPAWS in the News
FCC Actions Affecting Public Alerting
IPAWS Strategic Plan
2022 Users Conference Content
Coming Events
New Alerting Authorities & Database

Deanne Criswell

From FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell

Over the past 10 years, IPAWS has put the power of public alerting into the hands of emergency managers and public safety officials across the country, with alert originators in all 50 states, eight tribes, three territories, 1,700 counties, the National Weather Service, National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the U.S. Geological Survey.

More than five million messages have been sent through IPAWS since its inception, including more than 75,000 Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).
Far closer and more important to parents and grandparents, 125 missing and abducted children have been recovered thanks to AMBER Alerts being sent through WEA.

During heat waves on two coasts, and almost one year apart, our colleagues in California and New York City used WEA to ask their communities to conserve energy. In both cases there was an immediate and significant decline in energy use, which prevented longer and more dangerous blackouts.

IPAWS now has a 24/7 Technical Support Services Facility that is prepared to support the alerting needs of any alert originator requiring help. IPAWS, WEA and EAS remain vital tools that allow our communities to receive early warning so they can take early action. I encourage you to continue to use the system and be vocal about areas where we can make it even better!

(Excerpted from FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell's remarks at the 2022 annual meeting of the National Emergency Management Association.)

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Best Practices on Sending WEAs

The IPAWS website now includes a concise statement of best practices when sending WEAs, emphasizing that the decision to issue a WEA to the public is a matter of local emergency official communication plans, policies and procedures.

FEMA does not provide nor place limitations or restrictions on criteria for Alerting Authorities to issue a WEA to the public. FEMA does not monitor, review, modify, approve or disapprove WEA message text content.

Find the Best Practices for Alerting Authorities using Wireless Emergency Alerts online.

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IPAWS-OPEN 4.01 Release Coming

FEMA IPAWS continues improving IPAWS-OPEN with the upcoming 4.01 release this month. The release includes several enhancements to improve the efficiency and effectiveness in fulfilling the IPAWS mission of delivering timely messages to the American public during times of emergency.

In preparation for the transition, we thank the many vendors and developers who participated in User Acceptance Testing. For a detailed list of significant improvements in 4.01, see the Release Notes.

Vendors have been provided with IPAWS technical guidance for use in developing alert origination software in order to reduce common alerting errors, improve system performance, and make alerts and warnings more effective.

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Canceling & Updating WEAs

After sending your WEA, the incident may be resolved before the expiration time that you entered, or you may need to get additional information out to the public. If this is the case, you should cancel or update your alert.

By canceling, you are stopping the rebroadcast of your alert. Canceling will not send out another alert notifying the public of the cancellation; it just makes it so that citizens will no longer receive the alert that was sent.

Updating your alert, however, will initiate a new alert for dissemination while automatically canceling the current one. In this manner the previous alert will no longer be broadcast, reducing confusion.

When conducting your Monthly Proficiency Demonstration, we recommend that you practice canceling and/or updating test alerts once successfully sent, to stay abreast of the process in case you need to use it.

Cancel Alert Button

Subject-matter experts at our Technical Support Services Facility can help with canceling or updating alerts, with Monthly Proficiency Demonstrations, troubleshooting and any other IPAWS questions.

We are accessible via email at FEMA-IPAWS-LAB@fema.dhs.gov or 1-84-IPAWSLAB to offer support. The telephone number is answered 24 hours. E-mail is for routine inquiries that don't require immediate response.

Learn more about TSSF and IPAWS training in this video visit on YouTube.

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IPAWS in the News

Californians Were in Peril During a Heatwave. Their Neighbors Rose to the Occasion  Sacramento Bee, 9/10/2022

As extreme heat fueled by human-induced climate change battered the entire state Tuesday, downtown Sacramento reached an all-time high temperature of 116 degrees around 5 p.m. ...

With these life-or-death stakes in mind, around 5:45 p.m., the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (OES) also sent out its own message: a mass alert delivered straight to people's phones. "Turn off or reduce nonessential power if health allows," the message begged. Only two such alerts on the emergency wireless service had ever been sent out by OES.

Damage Reported After Two Quakes — Magnitudes 4.4 and 3.9 — Jolt the S.F. Bay Area  San Francisco Chronicle, 9/14/2022

People in Santa Rosa reported feeling two big jolts and the U.S.G.S. said the shaking was felt as far north as Mendocino County and as far south as Santa Clara County. The ShakeAlert early warning system sent out alerts that reached people moments before the first temblor.

"Bravo to the CA earthquake early warning system," a Twitter user named Amanda Stupi wrote. "Had enough time to get my kid and I under the kitchen table. Husband had enough time to text us and make sure we saw alert. My mind is kind of blown."

'Something is Off': Good Samaritans Rushed in to Rescue Kidnapped Teen at Hilo Cafe  KHNL-TV Honolulu, HI  9/18/2022

After nearly 20 hours of searching by air and ground, police confirmed on Saturday afternoon that 15-year-old Mikella Debina was found in good health. And it was all thanks to some quick-thinking strangers who only knew her from an AMBER alert.

Cell Phone Accessibility: Improving, but Gaps Remain  Georgia Tech

Cell phones are becoming more accessible, but gaps remain — including fewer features for people with cognitive disabilities, emerging issues such as vehicle connectivity, and surprising roadblocks such as poor battery life, according to the latest biennial analysis of cell phone accessibility by Georgia Tech's Center for Advanced Communications Policy...

The survey found that more and more cell phones — 92% in the most recent review — can receive WEA messages. That's an increase of 18% from 2020. While most phones now offer the most up-to-date WEA 3.0 standard, many of those that only support earlier WEA versions — with their shorter messages, fewer supported languages, and less precise geo-targeting — are subsidized Lifeline phones.

According to the report, this inequity can hit people with disabilities especially hard as they often rely on the subsidized phones and services.

DHS Tests Next Generation Wildland Urban Interface Alerting Technology

The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate concluded a proof-of-concept demonstration of the Wildland Urban Interface integration model in Fairfax County, VA.

The model integrates next generation technologies with IPAWS, enabling Alerting Authorities to disseminate Wireless Emergency Alerts with new capabilities such as displaying hazard and evacuation alert information on the "infotainment" screens in vehicles.

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FCC Actions Affecting Public Alerting

FCC Improves EAS Messages

The Federal Communications Commission updated its Emergency Alert System rules so that alerts delivered over television and radio are more informative and easier to understand by the public, particularly people with disabilities.

The updated rules require EAS participants – mostly radio and TV stations and cable TV systems – to transmit the Internet-based version of alerts to the public when available, rather than transmit the legacy version of alerts.

The increased use of Internet-based alerts, in Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) format, will produce higher-quality audio messages, improve the availability of multilingual alerts, and ensure that more of the alerts displayed on television screens contain all of the information provided by the government, the FCC said.

The updated rules will also replace the technical jargon that accompanies certain alerts, including test messages, with plain language terms so that the visual and audio messages are clearer to the public.

FCC Proposes Security Improvements to EAS & WEA

Meanwhile, the FCC also has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on ways to strengthen the operational readiness and security of Emergency Alert System (EAS) equipment. It would require EAS participants to report compromises of their EAS facilities to the FCC within 72 hours, even if no false alert was sent to the public.

The FCC said it believes the reporting is justified "in light of the instances of false EAS alerts in recent years, caused by compromised EAS equipment being used to transmit a false message. …We are aware of several situations in the past decade in which bad actors were either capable of obtaining, or actually obtained unauthorized access to EAS equipment."

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) also face security risks related to the transmission of false alerts, the FCC said, and compromise of wireless providers' systems could disrupt the transmission of a legitimate WEA message.

Accordingly, the FCC proposed requiring EAS participants and wireless providers that participate in WEA to annually certify that they have created, updated, and implemented a cybersecurity risk management plan that is sufficient to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of their alerting systems and that includes certain security measures.

In addition, the FCC observed that the handshake between a mobile device and the wireless provider does not include a process for the devices to ensure that the base station to which it attaches is valid.

"As a result," the Commission said, "mobile devices that are not actively engaged with a valid base station are vulnerable to receiving and presenting false alerts. This threat exists when a mobile device attempts authentication with the provider, switches base stations, or returns to active from idle mode."

The FCC proposed to require participating wireless providers to transmit sufficient authentication information to allow mobile devices to present WEA alerts only if they come from valid base stations.

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The IPAWS Strategic Plan 2022–2026

The IPAWS Program recently released its newest Strategic Plan. The Plan establishes four over-arching goals and16 objectives.

It focuses on making alerting available to more people and broader demographics, improving the effectiveness of alerts, improving the quality and sustainability of the national alerting ecosystem, and optimizing the IPAWS Program's service delivery and long-term capability development.

Download the IPAWS Strategic Plan at this link.

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2022 Users Conference Presentations & Videos

The 2022 IPAWS Users Conference introduced public safety officials not yet using IPAWS to this powerful tool for saving lives and protecting property.

The virtual conference presented the basics of IPAWS and the technical support available. Prospective and current users discovered how to leverage grants and funding for training, exercising, planning, and alerting tools; witnessed a live test of WEA, gained best practices from current Alerting Authorities as well as insights on effective messaging from a social scientist. They learned the four easy steps to get on-board as a new IPAWS Alerting Authority.

Find content presented at the conference at this link.

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Coming Events

Meet IPAWS at these emergency management events:

Nov. 14–16, 2022: International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), Savannah, Georgia. Join IPAWS at booth 325 to view demonstrations, hear from subject matter experts, and meet the IPAWS team.

Nov. 16–17, 2022: Natural Disaster & Emergency Management Expo (NDEM), New York, New York. IPAWS will exhibit to answer questions and interact with Alerting Authorities. Visit us at Booth 515.

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New Alerting Authorities & Database

The sign-up process to use IPAWS is outlined on the IPAWS website at this link.

Check the new Alerting Authorities database to find those serving your area.

We welcome these agencies and jurisdictions which recently completed IPAWS Memoranda of Agreement (MOA).

AL Alabama Department of Transportation
CA San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Office
CA Santa Maria Police Department
KY Estill County
LA Union Parish Office of Homeland Security & Emergency Preparedness
MI Dearborn Fire Department
TN City of Madisonville
TX City of Allen
TX Fayette County
TX Nacogdoches County
TX Texas Department of Public Safety
WA Asotin County Department of Emergency Management

All Alerting Authorities are required to sign the MOA, which includes information such as the agency's name, points of contact and alerting software.

Update your MOA at least every three years to avoid missing important information from IPAWS.

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The Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) is FEMA's national system for local alerting that provides authenticated emergency and life-saving information to the public through mobile phones using Wireless Emergency Alerts, to radio and television via the Emergency Alert System, and on the National Weather Service NOAA Weather Radio.

IPAWS 24/7 Technical Support Services: 1-84-IPAWSLAB / 1-844-729-7522