Today, April 7, 2012 marks an important day in the world of alert and warning. The system through which alerts can be sent to mobile devices without cost or public sign-up goes live today. This is launch day for the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) or, as the cell carriers call it, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). That means that authorized alerting authorities can send alerts through a system stood up by FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) that eventually will be accessible to most cell phones in the nation.
Today's launch doesn't necessary mean that alerts will start today. There are still some steps to be taken. First of all, authorized IPAWS alerting authorities must be designated. That means a four-step process needs to be followed by local and state authorities who want ability to use CMAS/WEA. (See our post here for details.) A few organizations have already completed the process, which was unveiled only a few weeks ago. You can find a list of authorized alerting authorities on the IPAWS web site here, as well as a list here of organizations that have started the application process.
Mobile devices must be equipped by the manufacturers to receive CMAS/WEA alerts. It's unclear how many WEA-equipped devices are in consumers' hands, but a Sprint representative told a session sponsored by IPAWS and the FEMA Office of Disability Integration and Coordination yesterday that his company has several million WEA-equipped devices in the field already. Other carriers have been equipping their devices to handle WEA, too.
Meantime, while local and state organizations are applying to be alerting authorities, the National Weather Service intends to start using CMAS/WEA very soon.
So, here we go...after waiting for some time and lots of hard work and cooperation, the targeted launch day has come and the system is ready. Yes, it will still take some time for CMAS/WEA alerts to become commonplace and well-known. Undoubtedly, glitches will occur. CMAS/WEA has limits, and it's but one way to alert the public. But, as we talk to potential alerting authorities across the country about the new call-to-action, everyone has expressed enthusiasm.
All the best (and start the application process now).
Go here for a variety of alerting resources, including a 10-minute podcast, "Ten-Minute Cheat Sheet: Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)"