From Galain President Rick Wimberly’s Blog “Alerts and Notifications: Best Practices For Emergency Notification Programs”

in Emergency Management Magazine

The Head of FEMA’s National Continuity Programs Directorate says “every opportunity and available venue” will be used to provide educational and actionable information to the public on IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System).  Damon Penn’s pledge came in written testimony before the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management.

IPAWS has been criticized in the past by Congress’s General Accounting Office for its outreach efforts.  Penn’s statement said that “while much progress has been made, there is still more to do”.

The wireless industry representative at the hearing obviously agrees with the “more to do” part.  He testified that the wireless industry can and does provide public education on the new national cell broadcast alerting system, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), and nudged local, state and federal authorities on outreach.  Christopher Guttman-McCabe of CTIA-The Wireless Association said it is “incumbent” on alerting authorities to educate their constituents about the alerts they’re going to issue.  He also said that FEMA and other government agencies “have an important role to play to promote uniform and comprehensive education across all parts of the country and all affected sectors of the emergency response community”.

Much to the chagrin of some of the committee members (see previous post), Penn wasn’t at the hearing in person because of the government shutdown.  However in his written statement prepared before the shutdown, he laid out a number of IPAWS outreach initiatives:

  • Release of radio and TV Public Service Announcements on WEA
  • Roll-out of an on-line course, “IPAWS and the American People”
  • Incorporation of IPAWS and WEA information on
  • Providing informational resources for local and state public safety agencies for their own efforts
  • Demonstration of IPAWS capabilities including vendor-provided solutions
  • Hosting webinars on best practices, the IPAWS program, and private industry solutions that work with IPAWS
  • Assistance to public safety officials with their IPAWS applications
  • Helping alerting authorities update public alert and warning plans
  • Exploring consistent alerting codes and symbology
  • Partnering with access and functional needs groups to better understand alert and warning gaps
  • Hosting, along with FEMA’s Office of Disability Integration and Coordination, roundtables on accessibility of alerts
  • Publishing white paper, “Alerting the Whole Community:  Removing Barriers to Alerting Accessibility

Penn’s statement said as of mid-September, 33 states, two territories, and 163 local agencies have become IPAWS Alerting Authorities, and 11 states and 160 local agencies are in the application process.

All in all, a good overview of IPAWS outreach activities with acknowledgement that more work needs to be done.   Don’t expect to see any of the sub-committee members addressing funding for these efforts.  But, you’ll see them spend a good bit of time complaining about the shut-down and the “other party’s” stubbornness.

Watch for other posts from the hearing, including topics like:  Avoiding over-alerting, addressing issues with WEA, the Emergency Alert System (EAS), FM chips in cell phones for emergencies, and IPAWS success stories.

All the best,