Alerts & Notifications

IPAWS Could be Changing

Congress has passed a new law that could enhance operations of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

by Rick Wimberly / March 27, 2016

Could there be a new era of the nation's most aggressive alerting initiative, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS)?  After several After years of rumbling around in Congress, the IPAWS Modernization Act has finally passed both the House and Senate.  When signed into law, this will be the first time the years-old IPAWS program will actually become law of the land with the full endorsement of Congress.  Until now, IPAWS has operated under authority of Presidential Executive Order.

The IPAWS Modernization Act does more than make IPAWS law.  It adds certain responsibilities.  Some of the more noteworthy requirements of the Act include (with commentary in parenthesis):

  • establishment of a committee of IPAWS stakeholders to expand collaboration and recommend improvements.  (Long overdue.  The list of members is comprehensive, although we wonder how this will be funded and operated.)
  • conducting "public education efforts so that State, tribal, and local governments, private entities, and the people of the United States reasonably understand the functions of the public alert and warning system and how to access, use, and respond to information from the public alert and warning system through a general market awareness campaign".  (IPAWS has conducted some outreach to certain stakeholders, but not to a large extent and none to the "general market" other than an occasional press release or mention on social media.)
  • adding "the capability to alert, warn, and provide equivalent information to individuals with disabilities, individuals with access and functional needs, and individuals with limited-English proficiency, to the extent technically feasible."  (IPAWS currently serves these populations to the extent EAS and WEA do.  Presumably, the Modernization Act would require more effort in this regard.)
  • ensuring IPAWS is "designed to adapt to, and incorporate, future technologies for communicating directly with the public."  (We believe IPAWS is in good position to do this, although few people know how it will happen.  Our recent blog post called "New Age of Alerting Coming:  Ubiquitous Alerts" helps explain.)
  • conducting training, tests, and exercises on a regular basis.  This includes integration of training into the National Incident Management System (NIMS) on the use of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).  (Broadcasters lobbied hard for this requirement, believing that EAS could be much more effective if more people received good training on it.  They were right. EAS is the only IPAWS capability added to NIMS.  It does not include WEA or the All Hazards Feed.)
  • creation of a comprehensive annual performance report for public consumption.  (This clearly adds more public accountability and perhaps even visibility, certainly a good thing.)

The President is expected to sign the IPAWS Act into law.  Now, will Congress approve necessary funds for proper execution of the new law?  If so, we could be looking at a successful federal program that touches virtually everyone in the US through a unique and growing partnership of private industry and local, state, and federal officials.