Public Safety and Radio Broadcasting

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To create an integrated platform that can provide information, not only to broadcasters, but other media such as wireless broadband devices, satellite and Internet providers roadside electronic signage and siren warning systems, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) system was developed and managed by FEMA. IPAWS utilizes the Open Platform for Emergency Networks (OPEN) to move standards-based alert and information messages between alert and warning systems and is now known as IPAWS-OPEN.

Federal, state, territorial, tribal and local alerting authorities can use IPAWS and integrate local systems that use Common Alerting Protocol standards with the IPAWS infrastructure. IPAWS provides public safety officials with an effective way to alert and warn the public about serious emergencies using the Emergency Alert System (EAS), Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio, and other public alerting systems from a single interface.

State and local alerts may be inserted into EAS several ways:
■ NWS transmits watches and warnings through the EAS via a complete EAS message on NWR. Many broadcast stations and cable systems purchased EAS equipment with receivers that can monitor NWR.
■ Broadcasters and cable operators are permitted to originate an EAS alert. Since civil and weather warnings should come from entities with the legal responsibility for public warnings, many EAS experts believe that this activity should be viewed as an emergency backup capability.
■ A growing number of state and local emergency managers and law enforcement agencies have EAS equipment and enter EAS tests and warnings directly through broadcast stations and cable systems identified in EAS plans. In a few areas officials can originate EAS events through their local NWR station. Implementation procedures should be included in a state and local area EAS plan.
■ State and local emergency managers may call the local NWS office or a broadcaster to request that an alert be issued according to procedures and authentication methods that should be in published local and state EAS plans.

IPAWS started live testing in 2011; however, as of this writing only 140 state and local agencies have completed the necessary authentication steps to use IPAWS. Another 134 have applications pending and are awaiting approval.

The process for becoming authorized to use IPAWS is dictated by FEMA. A federal, state, territorial, tribal, or local alerting authority that applies for authorization to use IPAWS is designated as a Collaborative Operating Group (COG) by the IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO). There are currently numerous types of COGs affiliated with IPAWS varying in size, structure and governance styles. A COG may have members from multiple jurisdictions with each individual member account administered through its software system. To get the required authorization, the COG must:
■ Select IPAWS compatible software.
■ Apply for and execute a Memorandum of Agreement with FEMA. Once executed, a COG identification and digital certificate will be generated and implemented in IPAWS-OPEN. This information will also need to be provided to the selected software developer, in order to properly configure the software to access the system.
■ Complete the IPAWS Web-based training. The course is online at: emiweb/is/courseoverview.aspx?code=is-247.a.
■ Upon completion of the course, specific permissions will be granted to the members identified in the application.

It is interesting to note that approximately 70 percent of all EAS activations are related to severe weather events that can now be initiated directly by the National Weather Service specifically to affected areas.

Down the road, look for IPAWS integration with federal, state and local agency radio systems. Currently there is a federal mandate to upgrade all of these systems to the IP-based P25 standard, which permits interoperability between all these different public safety agencies.

McNamara is president of Applied Wireless, Cape Coral, FL.

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