FEMA IS 0251: IPAWS for Alerting Authorities

Table of Contents:

  • Lesson 1: Introduction to Collaborative Operating Groups
  • Lesson 2: Alerting Best Practices

 


Lesson 1: Introduction to Collaborative Operating Groups

Course Overview

The goal of this course is to provide alerting authorities with:

  • Increased awareness about Collaborative Operating Groups (COGs)—how they are issued, their structure, their capabilities, and their responsibilities, and
  • Skills to draft appropriate, effective, and accessible warning messages using best practices in alerting

This course should take approximately 1.5 hours to complete.

Receiving Credit

To receive credit for this course, you must:

Complete all of the lessons. Each lesson will take between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. It is important to allow enough time to complete the course in its entirety.

Check the length of the lesson on the overview screen.
Remember . . . YOU MUST COMPLETE THE ENTIRE COURSE TO RECEIVE CREDIT. If you have to leave the course, do not exit from the course or close your browser. If you exit from the course, you will need to start that lesson over again.

Pass the final exam. The last screen provides instructions on how to complete the final exam.

Lesson Overview

This lesson provides an overview of Collaborative Operating Groups (COGs) with reference to how they are issued, their structure, their capabilities, and their responsibilities.

Upon completion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define a COG
  • Identify how COGs are issued
  • Describe different COG structures
  • Describe COG capabilities and responsibilities

This lesson should take approximately 30 minutes to complete.

Definition

A Collaborative Operating Group (COG) is established when a Federal, State, local, tribal or territorial alerting authority successfully applies for authorization to use IPAWS. A COG may have members from multiple organizations (e.g. a regional mutual aid organization).

One of the unique features is that COGs can foster communication, collaboration, and coordination not only during the incident response phase, but also in regard to incident preparedness, mitigation, and recovery. COGs consist of, but are not limited to, organizations such as local fire departments, offices of emergency management, state police, public universities, etc.

COG Setup Permissions

Depending on the type of access required, COGs can be set up to have the following alerting permissions:

COG-to-COG Messaging
This configuration allows the COGs to send alert messages to each other, therefore, increasing collaboration and situational awareness of all COGs involved.

COG-to-COG Messaging and Public Alerting
This configuration allows the COGs to send alert messages to each other and to the public, therefore, increasing collaboration and situational awareness of all COGs involved and providing the public with the information they need in emergency or hazardous situations.

Next let us review how these configurations are issued.

Application Process for COG-to-COG Alerting Access

If a COG requires access to COG-to-COG Messaging, the following steps must be completed. Select each number below to learn more.

1. Acquire IPAWS-Compatible Alert Software

The organization applying to become a COG must acquire an IPAWS-Compatible alert software. The developer of the alert origination software must have executed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with FEMA. Consult your software developer to ensure your software is IPAWS-OPEN compatible and provides the capabilities that your organization requires.

You can view the list of private sector developers that have executed a MOA with FEMA to develop IPAWS-OPEN compatible alerting system by selecting this link: http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=5670

2. Apply for a Memorandum of Agreement with FEMA

The next step is to complete and submit the FEMA MOA application which will govern software security and acceptable Rules of Behavior. These Rules of Behavior encompass the following: using the IPAWS software for official purposes only, ensuring authorized users securely access the software, ensuring authorized users have discrete and strong passwords for accessing the software, ensuring computers hosting the software are protected and the software is used only from authorized devices, ensuring authorized users agree to the software access agreement and understand that they are accountable for their actions in use of the software, and reporting security incidents to authorized personnel.

This application can be downloaded from the following FEMA website: http://www.fema.gov/alerting-authorities#3.

Once the MOA application is completed, it should be emailed to [email protected].  Please indicate in the subject line of the email “COG Application.”

The IPAWS MOA coordinator will then process the MOA application, create a MOA for the organization, and send it back to the organization for signature.

The organization should sign the MOA and return it to [email protected].

The MOA coordinator will then have the MOA signed by the FEMA authorizing officials. This generally takes between two and three weeks.  Once the MOA is fully executed, it will be returned to the organization.

FEMA will assign a COG name and COG ID to the organization.

3. Install Digital Certificate on System

The FEMA IT security team will send an AES 256 encrypted file containing the organization’s Digital Certificate.  This is sent to the organization’s official point of contact.

A member of the FEMA IT security team will then call the organization’s point of contact and provide the password associated with the encrypted file.

The organization (usually with assistance from the organization’s software vendor) will then install the Digital Certificate on its system so that it can access IPAWS and digitally sign its messages.

4. COG System Ready to Exchange Messages with Other COGs

The organization (COG) will now be able to exchange messages with other COGs in IPAWS.

Application Process for Public Alerting Access

If a COG requires access to public alerting in addition to COG-to-COG messaging, the following additional steps must be completed. Select each number below to learn more.

1. Complete IPAWS Public Alerting Application

The COG should complete the Public Alerting Application provided by the IPAWS MOA coordinator. In this application, you are required to select the types of dissemination systems, the extent of your geographic warning area, and the event codes your alerting authority intends to issue.

Notes:

  • Dissemination systems currently include EAS, CMAS (WEA), HazCollect, and the public feed.
  • Upon completion and approval of this Public Alerting Application you will be directed to NOAA to obtain HazCollect alerting authority.

FEMA requires coordination between States and local alerting authorities to ensure that the application is consistent with state public alerting plans and that the public does not receive conflicting information. Federally recognized tribal alerting authorities may coordinate with the States if they choose to do so.

2. Submit Public Alerting Application to Designated State Official

The completed Public Alerting Application should be submitted to a designated State official for approval. The designated State official’s contact information will be provided by the IPAWS MOA coordinator.

3. Complete IS-247.a—IPAWS Web-based Training (WBT)

The COG point of contact, who will be authorized to send alerts, will need to complete the IS-247.a–IPAWS Web-based Training (WBT) and obtain a certificate of completion.

The WBT can be accessed here: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/is247a.asp

4. Submit State-Approved Public Alerting Application and IS-247.a Certificate of Completion to IPAWS

The following documents then need to be submitted to [email protected]:

  • The Public Alerting Application, completed and signed by the State approver
  • The IS-247.a Certificate of Completion

5. COG authorized to send public alerts

The COG’s public alerting permission will now be enabled in IPAWS and the COG will be able to issue public alerts to the authorized area.

COG Structures

As we learned previously, a COG may be established at any geographic level sponsored by the appropriate government agency at the Federal, State, local, tribal or territorial level.

Here are some examples of COG structures:

  • One-State COG
  • One-university COG
  • One-region COG
  • Single-jurisdiction COG
  • Multi-County COG

Now let us look at how different COG structures affect the way in which alerts are disseminated.

COG Alerting Authority

The authority to send alerts to the public will vary based on the ways in which the COGs are established. States may choose from a variety of state governance practices:

  • Some states delegate the authority to send out the alerts to the local sublevels
  • Other states retain the authority to approve any alerts before being sent

So what are the best ways to set up a COG? Let’s review these next.

Best Practices for COG Structures

There is no one perfect way in which to set up a COG. COGs should be set up based on your needs and what works best for your organization/State.

Even within a single jurisdiction, multiple agencies such as the police department and fire department may have authority to issue alerts.  When multiple agencies possess the ability to issue alerts in an area, confusion can arise from redundant or contradictory alerts. Avoiding this situation requires coordination.

Whatever the COG structure (whether county, State, or city-driven), it all needs to be coordinated and supported by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to show how it will work.

The MOUs and Memorandum of Agreement (MOAs) safeguard the  confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the IPAWS software systems; ensure that the systems are deployed for official use only; and prevent duplicate/frivolous alerts from being disseminated to the public.

Relation with Governance Structure

Alerting authorities should reference their State emergency communications and EAS plans to govern alerting responsibilities for their state and local jurisdictions. COG permissions, including alerting jurisdictions and permissible alerting codes, should be established in accordance with established State emergency communications and EAS plans.

All State EAS plans are available on the Federal Communications Commission website at:
http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/state-eas-plans-and-chairs

Voices of Experience – Best Practices for COG Structures

Select the graphics below to learn what Sheila, an emergency manager, has to say about best practices in setting up COG structures.

Our state Emergency Management Agency operates as a COG. In our agency, we strictly adhere to the Rules of Behavior we signed in our Memorandum of Agreement with FEMA. We ensure that only authorized users securely access IPAWS and they understand that they are accountable for their actions in use of the system.

Our COG permissions, including alerting jurisdictions and permissible alerting codes, have been established in accordance with our established State emergency communication and EAS plans. In line with this, when we have to send the alerts to the public using IPAWS, we delegate the authority to send the alerts to the local counties.

Best Practices for COG Management

Certain best practices are recommended for the management of a COG. A few best practices are listed below:

Software Compliance

Ensure that the selected software system is in compliance with IPAWS technology.

Official Use

Ensure that IPAWS-OPEN is used only in an official capacity in support of public safety (as described in the National Incident Management System).

Security Policies

Ensure that appropriate security policies are in place to limit IPAWS access to authorized users (e.g. no sharing of account names and passwords).

System and Device Protection

Ensure that all physical devices accessing IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Notification (IPAWS-OPEN) receive software system-level (e.g. using up-to-date anti-virus programs) as well as physical protection.

Accountability

Ensure that authorized users understand that they are accountable for their actions while using IPAWS-OPEN, and that they are required to promptly report any security incidents they encounter.

Rules of Behavior

Everyone is aware of the established rules of behavior to ensure that all users have proper guidance.

System Interoperability

Contact the State Emergency Management Agency and neighboring Counties to ensure system interoperability.

Delegating Alerting Authority

The person who signs the MOA is ultimately responsible for how the organization accesses and uses IPAWS-OPEN.

In addition, this person is also responsible for the following:

  • Monitoring the actions of his/her staff members in use of IPAWS-OPEN
  • Reporting incidents and/or violations of the Rules of Behavior to FEMA Security
  • Reporting to FEMA discontinuation of use of IPAWS-OPEN by the Primary, Alternate, or Technical Point of Contact
  • Maintaining records of personnel with access to IPAWS-OPEN

Now let’s see how COG permissions can be changed.

Changing COG Permissions

When the MOA process is complete, the COG structure and points of contact are established and requested permissions are enabled. These parameters are part of a living document and can be updated as needed.

When changes are required to the COG you must contact [email protected].

IPAWS-OPEN Access

Let’s learn more about granting, managing, and monitoring access to IPAWS-OPEN.

Granting Access to IPAWS-OPEN

Before being granted access to IPAWS-OPEN, each user must:

  • Complete the IS-247.a–IPAWS web-based training.  In addition, it is recommended that users also complete training and materials that are specific to their organization. Most EMAs receive training from their alert origination software provider to train their staff to ensure they know how to appropriately use the software and manage its capabilities. Where applicable, document and maintain records of successful completion of FEMA-required training and produce such documentation in response to official inquiries and/or requests.
  • Read, understand, and sign the IPAWS Rules of Behavior. Rules of Behavior help learners understand that the IPAWS-OPEN system:
    • Is for official use only
    • Requires approved email accounts for access
    • Requires users to create user ID and passwords based on the provided guidelines

Requires users to follow guidelines for protecting physical devices used for accessing IPAWS-OPEN and to use only officially approved devices

Managing Level of Access to IPAWS-OPEN

Emergency Managers or the person(s) in charge of IPAWS-OPEN at the COG should ensure that users are provided the appropriate level of access to IPAWS-OPEN commensurate with their roles and authority.

The level of access to IPAWS-OPEN and access to the system is granted in a variety of ways including the most common ways of either:

  • The user’s position in the organization
  • The individual’s name in the organization

Monitoring Access to IPAWS-OPEN

When users sign the IPAWS Rules of Behavior, they acknowledge that they will be accessing the system for official use only. However, the responsibility for the release of individual alert messages falls on the IPAWS COG System Owner who is responsible for anyone with access to the IPAWS-OPEN system under that COG ID. Remember that just because someone has administrative rights to the system, it does not mean that he/she may send an alert message at will.

FEMA IPAWS knows when a COG issues a message to IPAWS-OPEN, however there is no way for FEMA IPAWS to know which individual user of the COG issued the message.   The COG system owner should have the means to audit users’ access to the system as well as their activities while logged in.  FEMA reserves the right to disable a COG if anyone in the COG violates the Rules of Behavior.

Voices of Experience – Best Practices for COG Management

Select the graphics below to learn what Edward, an emergency manager and a signatory authority for his COG’s IPAWS MOA, has to say about best practices in maintaining COG certification.

In our COG, we ensure that authorized users read and completely understand the IPAWS-OPEN Rules of Behavior, which are strictly enforced. We ensure that the system is used for official purpose only by authorized users and that they have discrete and strong passwords for accessing the system. Authorized users are held accountable for their actions related to system access and they comply with the rules or risk losing their access privileges. The Rules of Behavior apply to users on official travel as well as at their primary workplace and at any alternative workplace using any electronic device including, but not limited to laptop computers and portable electronic devices.

Resources

Select each link below to learn more about additional resources.

IPAWS Toolkit for Alerting Authorities

The IPAWS Toolkit, developed by the IPAWS office, provides alerting authorities at all levels of government with resources to assist them with the adoption of Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), incorporate IPAWS, and ensure their communities understand how to access, use, and respond to public alert and warning information. It can be accessed by selecting this link: http://www.fema.gov/informational-materials

WEA Fact Sheet

The WEA Fact Sheet explains what Wireless Emergency Alerts are and how to receive them. It can be accessed by selecting this link: http://www.fema.gov/informational-materials#2

Alerting Authorities

This web page provides useful information on IPAWS for alerting authorities. It can be accessed by selecting this link: http://www.fema.gov/alerting-authorities

IPAWS Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) Application

The Application for Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between FEMA and COG for access to IPAWS-OPEN by interoperable software system(s) is available on this web page. It can be accessed by selecting this link: http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=6019

IS-247a—IPAWS WBT

This web page provides a link to the IPAWS WBT. It can be accessed by selecting this link: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=is-247.a

Lesson Summary

This lesson provided an overview of COGs with reference to how they are issued, their structure, their capabilities, and their responsibilities.

You should now be able to:

  • Define a COG
  • Identify how COGs are issued
  • Describe different COG structures
  • Describe COG capabilities and responsibilities

In the next lesson, you will learn skills to enable you to draft appropriate, effective, and accessible warning messages using best practices in alerting.

 

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Lesson 2: Alerting Best Practices

Lesson Overview

This lesson introduces you to the skills required to draft appropriate, effective, and accessible warning messages using best practices in alerting.

Upon completion of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Identify the characteristics of good alert messages
  • Describe how templates can be used for effective alert messaging
  • Write effective alert messages
  • Identify system capabilities and limitations
  • Identify best practices for public education for alerts and warning

 

Criteria for Issuing Warnings

Deciding whether to issue a public warning can be a difficult decision. Ultimately it will be a matter of local judgment; however, it will be helpful to have an outline of decision criteria to assist you with the process and ensure that a timely decision is made.

When deciding whether to issue a public warning, the following criteria can be applied:

  • Does the hazardous situation require the public to take immediate action?
  • Does the hazardous situation pose a serious threat to life or property?
  • Is there a high degree of probability that the hazardous situation will occur?
  • Are other means of disseminating the information adequate to ensure rapid delivery of urgent information?

Your State emergency plans may provide criteria for issuing public alerts, including activating IPAWS; if so, they should be incorporated into your local procedures.

 

Characteristics of Effective Alert Messages

You learned about the characteristics of effective alert messages in detail in IS 247.a-IPAWS WBT. We have summarized them below for your reference.

Composition

To help ensure that warning messages are effective, they must be issued in a timely manner and should include the following information about the hazard:

  • Type of threat
  • Location
  • Duration
  • Source of message
  • Magnitude
  • Likelihood
  • Protective behavior

Style of Writing

How you write an alert/warning message is nearly as important as what you write. Some style elements to consider when writing alert and warning messages include:

  • Specificity
  • Consistency
  • Certainty
  • Clarity
  • Accuracy

Access and Functional Needs

Effective alert messages also address persons with disabilities and those with access and functional needs. From an access and functional needs perspective, keep the following in mind when composing a message:

  • Clear and simple language
  • Avoid non-standard language and terminology to facilitate easier text-to-speech conversion and use of screen reading devices
  • Consistency of audio with message text
  • Ample text and audio to explain images/maps

English as a Second Language

IPAWS does not provide translation services, but it is capable of accepting and relaying alerts in multiple languages as composed by the alert originator. Your alert authoring or other software programs may provide automated translation, but you should validate any automatically translated text with a speaker of the language to avoid errors. The use of pre-translated templates may serve to minimize the amount of information requiring translation for actual alerts.

Alert Codes

For a complete list of event codes authorized by the FCC, select this link.
http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2010-title47-vol1/pdf/CFR-2010-title47-vol1-part11.pdf

 

Agency Coordination

Effective alerting demands the presentation of clear and unambiguous information to the public. Select each tab below to learn more about important communities to partner with to aid in effective alerting.

Bordering Alerting Authorities

When multiple alerting agencies possess the ability to issue alerts in an area, confusion can arise from redundant or contradictory alerts. As your EMA is preparing best practices for alerting, consider cases where an emergency event may cross jurisdictional boundaries, such as a drifting cloud of toxic gas released from an industrial accident, or a flood resulting from a dam break. Establish agreements with adjacent jurisdictions that address coordination of alerting to enable a coordinated and consistent response in advance.

Specialized Communities

Many specialized communities in your jurisdiction may be involved with emergencies and the recovery process. These specialized communities will vary greatly in each community and can include, but are not limited to, universities, nuclear power plants, chemical facilities, military bases, federal agencies, hospitals, etc. Some of these entities have the capability to become an IPAWS COG to allow another origination source of alerts in your community. EMAs should coordinate with these organizations to better determine the risks that exist as well as coordinate plans in the event of an emergency.

Private Sector Alert Disseminators – Broadcasters

Broadcasters and broadcast engineers are an important part of the alerting process and a strong relationship is critical. For instance, State or local EAS plans may limit the types of codes which EAS participants are assigned to monitor for EAS broadcast. Part of the EAS plan may state that some codes are automatically forwarded and some are not, so alerting authorities need to know which ones are not and which require human intervention to be sent out.

Private Sector Alert Disseminators – Cell Carriers

Due to the addition of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), the involvement of private sector partners in the wireless industry has expanded. Commercial Mobile Service Providers (cell carriers) partner with FCC and FEMA to make WEAs a reality. Due to this additional layer of dissemination and the variability of WEA implementation through the carriers, it is critical that EMAs are aware of which cell carriers operate in their jurisdiction and what WEA coverage they have available. For more information, contact the service providers in your local area.

 

Consequences of Unclear, Incorrect, and False-Alarm Messages

Unclear or incorrect warning messages may lead to loss of life and/or property. It is therefore very important to issue accurate and consistent alert messages.

Alert messages that give false alarms or “cry wolf” may cause the public to become frustrated. Alerting Authorities should protect against cry wolf syndrome. Too many false alarms may erode public trust, which is a vital element in disaster response. If the issuance of a false alarm is fully explained to the public, they tend to take into account that officials are making difficult decisions to protect them from harm.

 

Voices of Experience -Advantages of a Clear, Concise Message

Select the graphics below to learn what Shirley and Tom, two alert originators, have to say about crafting a clear, concise message.

In my 15 year career as an alert originator, I have found that effective alert messages are those that result in members of the public taking appropriate action. Effective warning messages that are issued in a timely manner should have the following characteristics: they must point to what specific hazard is threatening the community, its location, when and how long the impact will last, magnitude and likelihood of the hazard’s impact, the protective actions people should take, and the source of the warning message. Remember that clear, concise and actionable alert messages preserve life and property.

In addition to disseminating a warning message, how you write a warning message is equally important. Poorly written warning messages can undermine both its understanding and credibility. So how do you write an effective warning message? Remember these style elements to consider when writing accessible and usable alert and warning messages: your message has to be specific about the “Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? It has to be consistent, one part of the message should not contradict another part or previously distributed alerts. A well written warning message conveys certainty of the hazard, is also clear and accurate, and uses common words that can be easily understood.

 

Advantages of Templates for Standardizing Messages

There are a number of advantages to using templates for standardizing messages.

Prevent Errors

The use of templates tailored to those hazards likely in your warning area can help prevent errors or omissions that can occur in moments of urgency.

Reduce Delays

Using a template that incorporates pre-approved language can reduce delays in issuing alerts and warnings.

Multilingual Option

If you need to use a language in addition to English, your templates can be translated in advance.

Reduce Coordination Time

Templates that are prepared in advance can be pre-coordinated with other agencies including your Public Information Officer (PIO)/Public Affairs to reduce coordination effort and time.

Testing

It is also important to test your templates through the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC). JITC maintains the IPAWS functional laboratory and provides FEMA interoperability and functional testing support, Information Assurance (IA) support, and overall technical support.

 

WEA Message Templates

When creating templates for WEA messages, you should focus on the required fields.

General Guidelines

In order to successfully send a Wireless Emergency Alert, the alert must contain certain values for these fields, reflecting “Imminent Threat”:

  • Urgency: Immediate or Expected
  • Severity: Extreme or Severe
  • Certainty: Observed or Likely

Because WEA messages are limited to 90 characters, it is very important to maximize their effectiveness. Consider the following factors when writing WEA messages:

  • Does the message drive the recipient to take life-saving action?
  • Does it direct people to other sources of information (for more information, due to the 90 character limit)?
  • Did you ensure that the message does not contain URLs or phone numbers?

Message Template

[Event name corresponding to event code element]

in this area til

[Expiration time in local time zone derived from Expires element]

[Assigned value derived from instruction-specific event code (EVI, SPW) or response type element; click on next tab for examples (3rd description)]

[Sender Name value, typically associated with the alert originator log in ID]

Assigned Value

The assigned values are as follows:

  • EVI/Evacuate=”Evacuate Now”
  • SPW/Shelter=”Take Shelter Now”
  • Prepare=”Prepare for Action”
  • Execute=”Execute Action”
  • Monitor=”Monitor Radio or TV”
  • Avoid=”Avoid Hazard”

Examples

Here is an example of a tornado warning relayed via WEA.

Field Example
[Event name corresponding to event code element] Tornado Warning
in this area til in this area til
[Expiration time in local time zone derived from Expires element] 4:30 PM EST
[Assigned value derived from instruction-specific event code (EVI, SPW) or response type element; see previous tab for examples] Take Shelter Now
[Sender Name value, typically associated with the alert originator
log in ID]
NWS

IPAWS WEA Template

90 character text (optional) – 90 characters or less, no phone numbers, no URLs
This is the <parameter> CAP element with a valueName of “CMAMtext” and value of free-form text limited in length to 90 English characters.

If this element is not present, the WEA message will be created according to the following formula: <eventcode> in this area til <expires> <responsetype> <sendername>.

 

Emergency Alert System (EAS) Message Templates

Now let us learn more about EAS message templates.

EAS Messages

EAS messages are free-form messages. They should be coordinated with the PIO in order to ensure that they do not conflict with what the PIO is saying.

The warning message should be written in a style that clearly conveys the potential hazard to the public. The content of the message should include information on five basic elements: source of message, description of the hazard/risk, location of the hazard, guidance for protective actions, and time available to act.

IPAWS EAS Template

Event Code (required) – ADR, AVA, AVW, CAE, CDW, CEM, EQW, EVI, FRW, HMW, LAE, LEW, NUW, RHW, RMT, RWT, SPW, TOE, VOW
This is the <eventCode> CAP element
County Code(s) (required)– 6-digit extended FIPS code(s) not to exceed 31 codes
This is the <geocode> CAP element with a valueName of “SAME” and value of a SAME 6-digit location
Sent Time (required) – Must be within +/- 5 minutes of current time
This is the <sent> CAP element
Expires Time (required) – Must not exceed Sent Time by 99.5 hours
This is the <expires> CAP element
Sender Name (required) – Human-readable format (ASCII/Unicode) name of agency or authority issuing alert
This is the <senderName> CAP element
Description (required) – Human-readable format (ASCII/Unicode) description of the hazard or event
This is the <description> CAP element
Instruction (optional) – Human-readable format (ASCII/Unicode) instruction to targeted recipients
This is the <instruction> CAP element
EAS message – (FCC required text + description + instruction) 1800 characters or less
A CIVIL AUTHORITY HAS ISSUED A [text from Event Code] FOR THE FOLLOWING COUNTIES/AREAS: [text from County Code(s)] AT [h:mm AM/PM formatted time from Sent Time] ON [mmm dd, yyyy formatted date from Sent Time] EFFECTIVE UNTIL [h:mm AM/PM formatted time from Expires Time]. Message from [text of Sender Name]. [text from Description]. [text from Instruction].

EAS Message Example

Response Type: SHELTER-IN-PLACE

Headline: EMERGENCY BULLETIN ISSUED FOR MADISON COUNTY

Description: STATE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS TECHNICIANS HAVE ISSUED

* AN EMERGENCY BULLETIN IN URBAN AREAS IN WEST MADISON COUNTY

* UNTIL 2:00 AM CST

* AT 2:15 PM CST, AN EXPLOSION OCCURRED AT THE TYSON CHEMICAL PROCESSING PLANT IN ARLINGTON, MADISON COUNTY. THIS EXPLOSION HAS CAUSED A RELEASE OF CHLORINE GAS WHICH IS EXTREMELY HAZARDOUS TO HUMAN HEALTH IF INHALED OR COMES IN CONTACT WITH HUMAN SKIN. VAPORS FROM THIS CHLORINE GAS RELEASE MAY NOT BE VISIBLE AND CAN CAUSE SERIOUS ADVERSE HEALTH EFFECTS WITH VERY LITTLE NOTICE.

STATE HAZARDOUS MATERIALS TECHNICIANS ARE CLOSELY MONITORING THE SITUATION. THE EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM HAS BEEN ACTIVATED TO ADVISE PEOPLE IN THE IMMEDIATE AREA SURROUNDING THE TYSON CHEMICAL PROCESSING PLANT IN ARLINGTON, MADISON COUNTY TO SHELTER-IN-PLACE IMMEDIATELY. DUE TO THE NATURE OF THIS EVENT, OUTDOOR CONCENTRATIONS OF CHLORINE WILL NOT BE AT LEVELS HIGH ENOUGH TO CAUSE HARMFUL EFFECTS. SHELTERING INDOORS WILL PROVIDE YOU WITH AN EXTRA MARGIN OF SAFETY. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO EVACUATE AT THIS TIME BECAUSE YOU WILL RISK GREATER EXPOSURE BY GOING OUTSIDE THAN IF YOU REMAIN INDOORS.

THE SHELTER-IN-PLACE ZONE CONSISTS OF AN AREA APPROXIMATELY 5 MILES FROM THE TYSON CHEMICAL PROCESSING PLANT IN ARLINGTON, MADISON COUNTY. THIS AREA IS BOUNDED BY GEORGE WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL ON THE WEST, COLTS SPORTS ARENA ON THE NORTH, KILMER MIDDLE SCHOOL ON THE EAST AND RYAN PERFORMING ARTS CENTER ON THE SOUTH.

IF YOU ARE WITHIN THIS AREA, YOU SHOULD SHELTER-IN-PLACE IMMEDIATELY. DETAILED SHELTERING INSTRUCTIONS HAVE BEEN PROVIDED TO MADISON AREA BROADCAST RADIO AND TELEVISION STATIONS. PLEASE TUNE TO A LOCAL STATION FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION.

 

Voices of Experience – Use of Templates

Select the graphic below to learn what Peter, an alert originator, has to say about the advantages of using templates.

The use of templates, tailored to those hazards likely in your warning area, can help prevent errors or omissions that can occur in moments of urgency. In our county, we use templates that incorporate pre-approved language; this is very useful in reducing delays in issuing alerts and warnings. We also pre-coordinate our templates with our Public Affairs office to reduce coordination effort and time where every second counts before, during, and after an incident.

 

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)

What are WEAs?

WEAs are alerts broadcasted by authorized Public Alerting Authorities to any WEA-enabled mobile device in the geographically targeted area.

Characteristics

WEAs use a unique ring tone and vibration designed to draw attention and alert people to an emergency. The unique vibration, which distinguishes the alert from a regular text message, is particularly helpful to people with disabilities and others with access and functional needs.

Geotargeted

WEAs are targeted to the specific geographic area of the emergency. If a WEA-capable mobile device is physically located in that area, it will automatically receive and display the message.

Non-subscription Based

WEAs are non-subscription based alerts, so customers of participating wireless carriers with WEA-capable phones will automatically receive an alert in the event of an emergency, if they are located in, or travel to the affected geographic area. WEA broadcast geotargeting varies between rural and urban areas.

Operational Technology

WEAs use SMS-Cell Broadcast (SMS-CB), a one-to-many service, which simultaneously delivers messages to multiple recipients in a specified area. By using SMS-CB as the delivery technology service, WEAs avoid the congestion issues experienced by traditional voice and text messaging (SMS-PP) alerting services, which translates into faster and more comprehensive delivery of messages during times of emergency.

 

WEA Operation

Step 1: Alert Origination

An authorized Public Alerting Authority creates and sends WEAs to IPAWS-OPEN.

Step 2: Federal Alert Aggregation

IPAWS-OPEN receives and authenticates the transmitted alert message.

Step 3: Alert Broadcast

The transmitted alert message is then routed to the wireless carrier’s system, which broadcasts the alerts to all of their cell towers within the alert area.

Step 4: Alert Delivery

The wireless carriers broadcast the alert to WEA-enabled mobile devices within the geo-targeted alert area.

Most wireless carriers re-broadcast the alert until it expires to ensure that anyone that enters the alert area will receive the message. Only users who did not receive the message the first time will receive the message in the additional rounds of messages.

 

WEA Options for Public

Members of the public can opt out of WEA subscriptions for imminent threat and AMBER Alerts. However, they may not opt out of Presidential alerts.

As alerting authorities, you should be aware of which cell carriers operate in your jurisdiction, and what WEA capabilities they provide. To find out what specific technologies or capabilities exist contact your local cell carriers.

Next, let us learn about the Emergency Alert System.

 

Emergency Alert System Operation

EAS is a significant component of the IPAWS system and is a hierarchical alert message distribution system. Select each tab to learn about EAS operation.

National Level

At the initial/national level, EAS consists of Primary Entry Point (PEP)/National Primary (NP) stations that receive and transmit national-level messages initiated by The White House, in conjunction with FEMA. This implements EAS at the Federal level.

State Level

At the State level, the State Primary (SP) stations monitor specifically designated PEP stations and re-transmit the Presidential-level alerts. In addition, they may also relay EAS messages originating from the governor or a designated official at the State Emergency Operations Center (EOC).

Local Level

The Local Primary (LP) stations monitor the SP and PEP/NP stations and are monitored, in turn, by all other EAS participants (radio and television broadcasters, cable TV service providers, etc.). EAS is also available at the State and local levels to enable EAS participants, on a voluntary basis, to transmit local or State emergency information, such as severe weather warnings and child abduction alerts (AMBER Alerts).

Operation

EAS messages are relayed based on the county codes as selected by the alert originator. As shown in the adjacent figure, when a warning is issued for County 1, people in County 2 and County 3 who are within range of a tower that serves the warned county may also get the message.

 

HazCollect System Operation

HazCollect, or All Hazards Emergency Message Collection System, is a nationwide capability developed by NWS offering emergency services officials to provide full distribution of critical emergency messages through NWS channels. Select each tab below to learn how it works.

Incident Occurs

When an incident occurs, emergency management officials issue an alert message.

Alert Posted

The message is then authenticated by the IPAWS-OPEN.

Alert Authenticated

The message then travels to the HazCollect servers for authorization.

Alert Sent

HazCollect servers format the message with proper communication headers and send the message through all NWS distribution channels.

Alert Heard

After it is received at the NWS Weather Forecast Office serving the area, the message is broadcast over NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards with appropriate EAS codes and tone activations for relay through local media outlets.

 

Selecting an Alert Origination Tool

When you are acquiring an alert origination software, make sure that it has the capabilities and functionalities that meet all of your requirements as an alerting authority and prospective buyer. Keep the following points in mind regarding your decision in selecting an origination software:

  • What types of alerts do you intend to send? Do you want to be able to use templates?
  • Do you want a system that is integrated with your current tool or a stand-alone system?
  • What sort of security mechanisms does the tool provide to ensure strong access controls requiring authentication of users?
  • What system support is needed in the future? What is provided by the provider? (e.g. license and maintenance fees, updates to the software, etc.)
  • Consider your alerting jurisdiction needs and the capability of the alerting software to geographically target a specific location.

Select this link to learn about some recommended features of an IPAWS alert origination software.

Next, let us learn about how alerting systems can be used optimally.

 

Optimum Use of Alerting Systems

Let’s see how to use alerting systems optimally.

Coverage

When sending out alert messages, it is important to understand what area is affected and what coverage is provided by the alert system you are using to send the alert.

As shown in the adjacent graphic, the area covered depends on the coverage of the cell towers. If you compare this with the polygon that designated the affected area to which you wanted to send the message, you can determine whether there will be a message “overreach” or “underreach.” With WEAs, the geo-targeted area can be small. Hence, as an alert originator, you need to be aware of the cellular coverage and cellular deployment technology.

With EAS, the area will correspond to the area covered by the county code.

Layered Approach

It is important to understand that WEAs are designed to get the public’s attention and alert them to an imminent threat with a unique sound and vibration.

When sending alert messages, it is recommended that WEAs be used for highly localized incidents and point people to additional sources of information. Once a WEA is sent out, you should follow it up with an EAS message that provides more details.

WEAs work hand-in-hand with other alerting systems to create a more layered approach; even if one system does not work, other alerting systems provide redundancy to increase the likelihood the message still reaches the public.

Coordination

You should also ensure communication of WEA message release to the media before the alert goes out, to address the “check your local media” action. This coordination will ensure that the broadcast community and local news media are broadcasting along the same lines as what you’re transmitting on cell phones.

Consistency

When you are sending out alert messages, you should make sure that WEA and EAS content match to avoid confusion. This is demonstrated in the following example.

WEA: Flash Flood Warning in this area until 7:00 pm EDT. Avoid hazard.

EAS: Response Type: Avoid

Headline: FLASH FLOOD WARNING ISSUED FOR TUOLUMNE COUNTY

Description: THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN JACKSONVILLE HAS ISSUED A

* FLOOD WARNING FOR URBAN AREAS AND SMALL STREAMS IN NORTHERN TUOLUMNE COUNTY

* UNTIL 700 PM PDT

* AT 523 PM PDT…WEATHER SERVICE DOPPLER RADAR INDICATED AN AREA OF STRONG AND SLOW MOVING THUNDERSTORMS PRODUCING VERY HEAVY RAINFALL. THESE STORMS HAVE ALREADY PRODUCED RAINFALL ACCUMULATIONS OF 5 TO 7 INCHES…WITH ANOTHER 2 TO 4 INCHES LIKELY THROUGH 700 PM PDT THIS EVENING.

Instruction: PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

DO NOT DRIVE YOUR VEHICLE INTO AREAS WHERE THE WATER COVERS THE ROADWAY. THE WATER DEPTH MAY BE TOO GREAT TO ALLOW YOUR CAR TO CROSS SAFELY. MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND.

 

Public Education for Alerts and Warnings

Public education campaigns are as important as sending alert messages.

Purpose

Public education campaigns are designed to ensure the American people understand the functions of the public alert and warning system and how to access, use, and respond to information from the public safety officials. EMAs sending alert messages know their communities best, so you should have an active public education campaign to make sure that people understand the alerts, how to respond, and do not opt out of future alerts.

Methods

Public education and outreach can be accomplished through multiple venues, such as newspaper articles, public service announcements, town hall meetings, or other activities that the jurisdiction has found effective. The general public will then be encouraged to continue to listen to and follow officials’ guidance on what to do when a disaster occurs.

Effectiveness

It is also important to gather feedback from the public about the effectiveness of the messages that were broadcast, especially after an incident occurs.
The responses should be reviewed to determine whether any changes to the message content are needed. The results should also be passed to the applicable State agency in order to share them for the benefit of other jurisdictions.

Resources

Here are some good resources to provide the public with helpful information or can be incorporated and tailored to your own local public education campaign:

  • www.ready.gov/alerts
  • IPAWS Web-based Training Course IS-248 “IPAWS and the American Public”
  • FEMA IPAWS Public Safety Announcements (PSA) for both radio and TV
  • Local emergency preparedness websites

 

Voices of Experience – IPAWS Success Stories

In times of crisis, the American people continually demonstrate resilience. Therefore, it is essential that the American people have timely information to allow them to take the necessary actions to ensure their safety and minimize damage to property. Select each graphic below to learn how IPAWS alerts have helped across the country in saving lives.

On July 1, 2013, five counselors and 29 children in East Windsor, Connecticut, were in the Sports World complex soccer dome having fun at summer camp. Shortly after 1:30 PM, the manager received a WEA from the National Weather Service stating that a tornado warning had been issued for the area until 2:00 PM.

The manager immediately evacuated everyone into an adjoining building, and within two minutes of the alert, an EF1 category tornado hit the dome and sent it flying into the air. Due to the manager’s quick and correct response to the received WEA, no one at the summer camp was injured.

Police credited one Minneapolis teen’s quick thinking and dialing with helping them safely locate an abducted child and the suspect in his disappearance on Wednesday.

The teenager received an AMBER Alert on her father’s cell phone. She and her father made the 911 call that led to the arrest of the suspected kidnapper and allowed the kidnapped child to be reunited with his mother in a matter of hours.

As Hurricane Sandy headed for New York City two weeks ago, New Yorkers’ received WEAs on their cell phones recommending appropriate protective actions. This was the first time the WEA system was used in New York. The emergency alerts showed up where and when they mattered-this is a perfect example of the use of technology for warning people and keeping them safe!

 

Resources

HazCollect Codes

This document provides the list of event codes authorized by the HazCollect system.
http://www.crh.noaa.gov/images/mkx/pdf/hazcollect/NWEM_Table_web_site.pdf

WEA-capable Cell Phones

This page provides a list of various wireless carriers and the WEA-capable cell phones they support.
http://www.ctia.org/consumer_info/safety/index.cfm/AID/12082

EAS Template

This document provides a WEA template.
Internal WBT document.

Lesson Summary

This lesson introduced you to the skills required to draft appropriate, effective, and accessible warning messages using best practices in alerting.

You should now be able to:

  • Identify characteristics of good alert messages
  • Describe how templates can be used for effective alert messaging
  • Write effective alert messages
  • Identify system capabilities and limitations
  • Identify best practices for public education for alerts and warning

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