As the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) gains momentum as a standard for emergency messages, a laboratory is being stood up to test vendor products for CAP compliance. Vendors now have a place where they can put their products through independent testing to gain bragging rights for "certified" CAP compliance. And, emergency management professionals and other buyers will have independent certification that products they buy are truly CAP compliant.
Financed by FEMA under the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) program, the IPAWS CAP Conformity Assessment (CA) program is operated under contract to Eastern Kentucky University. Chad Foster runs the lab. He tells us they are first focusing on testing hardware necessary to make the broadcast-centric Emergency Alert System (EAS) work digitally. So, these vendors will get priority for now. However, other types of emergency notification vendors can start the wheels rolling for the certification process.
Vendors may want to do so soon. Besides marketing benefits of being among the first to win CAP certification, FEMA has agreed to temporarily pay fees for vendors to go through the certification process. Vendors will have to pay their expenses, and the "free fee" offer will likely expire at some point. Also, we suspect a backlog could develop, as the program matures and more public safety officials insist on CAP certification from their vendors.
The Conformity Assessment Program is in the "development stage", says Foster. That will change in the coming months when the latest version of CAP, version 1.2, is approved by FEMA. Then, after EKU works out any kinks to the program in the first year, other laboratories could be approved by FEMA to conduct testing for certification. With Congress and FEMA envisioning that the IPAWS program will be expanded much beyond EAS, all types of technologies could go through the testing. (Think broadcast, telephone notification, cellular, texting, satellite radio and TV, social media, even gaming devices.)
As Congress and FEMA see it, there would be a federally-operated aggregation engine to manage IPAWS messaging. State and local public safety officials could use IPAWS to notify the public of threatening events in targeted areas. Without certification, systems would not be allowed to hook into the federal system. So, public safety officials will be motivated to make sure vendors they use for their local systems can be part of the national system.
The conformity program is publishing a "pilot" web site. It's a work-in-progress, but we've been given permission to publish the site address. You can find it at www.nimssc.org/ipawsconform
So, the race is about to begin. We look forward to finding out who's the first to receive the CAP "Seal of Approval".
All the best,