FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Open Platform for Emergency Networks (OPEN) has been making great strides of late with improvements for all IPAWS Collaborative Operating Group (COG) users. Previewed in a webinar today were the features of the latest IPAWS-OPEN release, v3.04. Also highlighted was the availability for state and local alert originators and IPAWS-OPEN developers to make use of the facilities of the FEMA IPAWS Laboratory at the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) in Maryland as a platform to test their systems and alerting capabilities in an environment similar to IPAWS without causing test alerts to circulate in the actual IPAWS network.

The FEMA test laboratory at the Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) – photo courtesy of FEMA

Back in August, AWARE highlighted the upgrades made in IPAWS-OPEN v3.02, giving alert originators the ability to use polygon and circle alerting areas, the option to block their alert from release over particular IPAWS dissemination channels, and other improvements. It was revealed today that IPAWS-OPEN v3.03, which is now in use in the Test Development Lab (TDL) environment, will be deployed in the Production environment by the end of this month. While v3.03 deals mostly with internal IPAWS changes, the big news today was the announcement that the next big round of improvements coming in IPAWS-OPEN v3.04 will be deployed in TDL next week and in Production at the end of January.

Improvements in the Latest Version of IPAWS-OPEN

New features being introduced in IPAWS-OPEN v3.04 include:

  • Enhanced ability for FEMA to switch off COGs sending problematic messages.
  • The capability for Alert Originators to have different Event Code permissions on different dissemination channels (EAS, CMAS, etc.)
  • The capability for Alert Originators to send an electronic request to IPAWS to retrieve their permission settings for Event Codes allowed, geographic locations allowed, etc., which is currently a manual request process.
  • Better filtering of applicable messages for particular areas. Systems like EAS request a Message List from the IPAWS server each time they check for applicable messages for their area. Those Message List requests can now be filtered better to request only messages from a particular COG, only that contain a certain Event Code, only that have a digital signature validated by FEMA, or only are IPAWS Profile conformant.
  • The ability to request a Message List of any IPAWS alert intended for public distribution, which can be filtered by the other Message List parameters noted above. This feature was added in large part to create interoperability with alerts from Canada, which do not use the IPAWS Profile but are CAP v1.2 conformant messages.

It was also noted that support for Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) v1.1 messages will end with deployment of OPEN v3.04. All exchanges on IPAWS will now need to utilize CAP v1.2. Emergency Data Exchange Language Distribution Element (EDXL-DE) 1.0 capability will continue to operate. With the new version of OPEN, FEMA will be upgrading the IPAWS-OPEN Web Service Design Guidance used by developers from the current v3.02 to a new version 3.04. Developer use is growing at IPAWS, with now over 100 developers with TDL COGs.

Testing Capabilities with the JITC Test Lab

Another development is that FEMA is now inviting alert originators and IPAWS-OPEN developers to make use of its IPAWS Laboratory at the JITC in Indian Head, Maryland. This facility has a test instance that mirrors the IPAWS-OPEN capabilities, but test messages can safely be sent without risk of reception by the public. The lab currently has an EAS dissemination channel capability, with CMAS coming soon.

Any state/local alert originator wanting to run tests of their system can request that their Alert Origination Service Provider (AOSP) point that COG’s connection to the JITC lab. FEMA and JITC are happy to work with alert originators, as well as AOSPs, that want to perform tests in this environment. Some vendor/developers have even brought their equipment right there to the lab to conduct testing.

The lab is beneficial for testing technical issues, software, user interfaces, and a host of other items, but it was stressed that this is not official government testing but just a platform for feedback and experimentation. The lab has numerous CAP EAS devices, electronic signage, desktop alerting systems, and other alerting methods. Connection can also be made to the real IPAWS-OPEN system, if needed. The lab also has a training and conference center which IPAWS users are encouraged to avail themselves of. All are invited to stop on down; just drop a line to the IPAWS email box to make arrangements: ipaws@dhs.gov

It is great to see the continuing engagement by FEMA with its stakeholders, as well as its constant improvement to IPAWS-OPEN. Stay with AWARE for further developments.

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