In a recent webinar, improvements to FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System – Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN) were announced. This is the portal that alert originators use for entering messages into IPAWS, and FEMA is making it easier for them with some new features that will take effect in September with the deployment of OPEN v3.02.
As part of the briefing, there was an update on the ever growing number of Collaborative Operating Groups (COGs) connected to OPEN. A COG is the user group that local and state agencies use in connecting to OPEN, and there are now over 100 COGs; over 40 of them with Public Alerting Authority. It was also announced that now FEMA has two active IPAWS-OPEN servers, in geographically distributed locations. This will go a long way to boost the reliability of OPEN.
Two new OPEN features will make the generation of alerts more flexible for originators. The first is allowing the use of polygon and circle geographical descriptions of the alerted area, as opposed to only the FIPS code for the entire county. The FEMA servers already contain a pre-defined FIPS code or codes that each alert originator is authorized to send alerts for. This added feature allows the alert originator to stipulate polygon- or circle-based geographic areas to alert that are within their authorized FIPS code area. This will allow alert originators to better geo-target their messages. The second new convenience being added to OPEN is a simple way to prevent the originated message from being distributed to particular IPAWS dissemination channels through the use of a new feature called “Channelblock”. By including this new parameter element in an originated Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) message, the alert originator can stipulate if the message is not to be sent to certain IPAWS dissemination channels, such as EAS, CMAS or NWEM (Non-Weather Emergency Messages aired on NOAA Weather Radio). It was possible before to accomplish this same effect by manipulating certain values in other CAP element fields, but Channelblock makes this process much simpler with a CAP parameter element that was designed specifically for this purpose.
Another new feature of OPEN v3.02 will be the addition of a fourth IPAWS dissemination channel called “Non-EAS PUBLIC” alerts. These are messages that the alert originator wishes to deliver to the public, but are not meant for EAS, CMAS or NWEM dissemination. Note that a COG does need Public Alerting Authority from FEMA to originate Non-EAS PUBLIC alerts, just as it does for EAS and CMAS alerts; Non-EAS PUBLIC alerts are also included in the Channelblock feature described above. To better distribute these and other types of IPAWS messages to the public, FEMA has also created a Public Feed of IPAWS messages. This does not mean that the feed is available to the general public, but rather it is meant to give access to alert re-distributors which then make the IPAWS messages available to the public at large.
Hats off to FEMA for not just sitting back on its laurels of a completed system, but continuing to listen to its stakeholder users and adding features to help them better use IPAWS. Likely this won’t be the last round of improvements to IPAWS that we see from FEMA. Do you have ideas to improve IPAWS? Let us know in the comments or by tweeting to us at @awareforum.