Lesson 1: Introduction to IPAWS

Lesson Overview

This lesson provides an overview of IPAWS, its operation and benefits.

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

  • Define Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS)
  • Identify the benefits of using IPAWS for generating warnings
  • Describe IPAWS operation


IPAWS Overview

The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) is a comprehensive, coordinated, integrated system that can be used by authorized public officials to deliver effective alert messages to the American public.

IPAWS is the nation's next-generation infrastructure of alert and warning networks. IPAWS ensures the President can alert and warn the public under any condition. Additionally, IPAWS will provide Federal, State, territorial, tribal, and local warning authorities the capabilities to alert and warn their communities of all hazards impacting public safety and well-being via multiple communication pathways. FEMA is upgrading the alert and warning infrastructure so that no matter what the crisis, the public will receive life-saving information via at least one path.


IPAWS Architectural Diagram

IPAWS allows alerting authorities to write their own message using commercially available software that is compliant with open standards. The message is then delivered to the IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks (OPEN) where it is authenticated, and then delivered simultaneously through multiple communications pathways reaching as many people as possible to save lives and protect property.

The graphic below summarizes IPAWS architecture. We will go over it in detail later in this lesson.

Graphic showing IPAWS architectural diagram.


IPAWS Background

Click on each link below to learn more about the background on IPAWS.

  • Presidential vs. Local Alerting: IPAWS ensures that under all conditions the President of the United States can alert and warn the American people in situations of war, terrorist attack, natural disaster, or other hazards to public safety and well-being. However, it also recognizes that most alerts and warnings are issued at the state and local level, allowing authorized users to create location-specific alerts that are scaled to cover areas as big as their entire jurisdiction or a much smaller area within their jurisdiction.
  • Executive Order (E.O.) 13407: E.O. 13407 established as policy the requirement for the United States to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people. FEMA is designated within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement the policy of the United States for a public alert and warning system as outlined in E.O. 13407 and has established a program office to implement IPAWS. FEMA and its federal partners, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA’s) National Weather Service (NWS) and the DHS Science and Technology Directorate are working together to transform the national alert and warning system to enable rapid dissemination of authenticated alert information over as many communications channels as possible.
  • FCC Orders: The FCC's role includes prescribing rules that establish technical standards for the Emergency Alert System (EAS), procedures for EAS participants to follow in the event the EAS is activated, EAS testing protocols, and approving state EAS plans. Additionally, the FCC issues rules establishing requirements for the Commercial Mobile Alert System.
  • Common Alerting Protocol (CAP): The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is a simple, flexible data interchange format for collecting and distributing “all-hazard” safety notifications and emergency warnings over information networks and public alerting systems. CAP provides compatibility with all kinds of information and public alerting systems, including those designed for multilingual and access and functional needs populations. FEMA has adopted CAP and the IPAWS CAP Profile to ensure compatibility with the requirements of existing and emerging dissemination systems.


FEMA IPAWS Federal Partnerships

FEMA has partnered with recognized government and industry leaders and technical experts to ensure that the IPAWS program incorporates the latest technology and is practical for prospective users including local broadcasters, emergency responders and the general public. FEMA’s partners in the development of the IPAWS program include:

  • Federal Communications Commission (FCC): The FCC establishes the rules for broadcasters, cable system operators, and other participants regarding the technical requirements of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the rules for commercial mobile service providers who opt to participate in the voluntary Commercial Mobile Alert System.
  • National Weather Service (NWS): The NWS provides emergency weather and tsunami information to alert the public of dangerous local weather conditions and other emergencies. Go to http://alerts.weather.gov/ for more information on the NWS implementation of CAP.


IPAWS Benefits–One Input, Multiple Outputs

Do you recall the IPAWS architecture diagram reviewed earlier? Recall that IPAWS allows authorized alerting authorities to write their own message using commercial software that is compliant with OPEN standards. A message only has to be input once, and once authenticated; it is delivered over multiple communications pathways, including the Emergency Alert System, commercial mobile services, Internet services, NWS services, state and local alerting systems, and alerting technologies for persons with access and functional needs.


IPAWS Benefits–Geotargeted

IPAWS will ensure that the President can reach the American people, but it also recognizes that most alerts and warnings are issued at a state and local level. Alerting authorities can create location-specific alerts that are scaled to cover areas as big as their entire jurisdiction or a much smaller area within their jurisdiction, depending on the delivery capabilities of the system used for public dissemination.

For example, alerts relayed via EAS and broadcast by a local TV station will cover the entire viewing area of the station. Alerts relayed by CMAS are required to be delivered to an entire county although some cellular service providers may opt to broadcast to smaller affected areas.


IPAWS Benefits-Standardized Messaging Format

The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is an open, non-proprietary digital message format for all types of public and private emergency alerts and notifications, which can be delivered across multiple communications pathways such as:

  • Broadcast TV and radio
  • Cable and satellite TV and radio
  • Mobile/cellular and wireless devices
  • Signage
  • Emerging technologies

You will learn more about CAP in Lesson 3–Common Alerting Protocol Message Composition.

IPAWS Benefits–Rich Content (Multimedia)

In addition to emergency alert-required data, CAP alerts delivered by IPAWS may carry rich information such as images, audio, video, geospatial data, etc., that alert originators may include and disseminators may utilize to provide supplemental information to their audiences.

The photo at the right is a picture of Amber Hagerman, for whom the national America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) alert system was named.


IPAWS Benefits–Reliability, Redundancy, Security and Accessibility

IPAWS uses redundant alerting paths (TV, radio, cell phone, etc.) to increase the chance an alert will reach the public. IPAWS hardware and software components are designed to be reliable. The digital signature capability ensures message integrity and authenticity. Finally, CAP provides compatibility with public alerting systems, including those designed for multilingual populations and those with access and functional needs.


IPAWS Architectural Diagram and Operation

Federal, State, territorial, tribal, and local warning/alerting authorities are in charge of alerting their communities of all hazards using IPAWS-compliant alert origination tools.

Alert origination tools are software products used by emergency managers, public safety officials, and other alerting authorities to create and send critical life saving messages to the public.

The centralized alert aggregator/gateway receives CAP alert messages from various message origination/authoring tools, authenticates the sender, and sends the alert messages to IPAWS-compliant dissemination systems.

Multiple alert dissemination systems will have access to IPAWS:

  • IPAWS alerts can be delivered by the Emergency Alert System, using AM, FM, and satellite radio as well as broadcast, cable, and satellite TV. Equipment used by Emergency Alert System participants (broadcasters, cable TV operators, etc.) monitor IPAWS to retrieve CAP alerts intended for their geographic area. CAP is converted to legacy EAS format in accordance with manufacturer guidelines and is relayed to the public.
  • Alerts can be delivered via the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) that allows customers who own a CMAS enabled mobile device to receive geographically targeted messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area (including Presidential and AMBER alerts). Participating cellular mobile service providers receive and route IPAWS alerts to cell towers in the affected area. IPAWS is the sole means of accessing CMAS.
  • The National Weather Service operates the All-Hazards Emergency Message Collection System (HazCollect) to deliver “Non-Weather Emergency Messages” (NWEMs) through NOAA Weather Radio and other NWS dissemination services. IPAWS is the sole automated system for routing alerts to HazCollect.
  • Alerts will be available on the Internet through web based applications, email, instant messaging, social media, and RSS/ATOM feeds. Both public and private sector services may monitor IPAWS and disseminate alerts.
  • State, local, territorial, and tribal alerting systems such as emergency telephone networks, sirens, and digital road signs may also be configured to retrieve alerts from IPAWS once they are IPAWS/CAP compliant.
  • Finally, CAP and IPAWS make it possible to integrate future alerting technologies and systems.



  • FEMA IPAWS Website: For more information on IPAWS, view the FEMA IPAWS website (https://www.fema.gov/integrated-public-alert-warning-system).
  • Executive Order (E.O.) 13407: Complete text of E.O. 13407 is available at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2006/pdf/06-5829.pdf.
  • FCC Orders: To access FCC EAS rules and regulations, go to http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&sid=75127c72007aa6a3f1ce8fda8cb814e2&rgn=div5&view=text&node=47:  For access to a list of state EAS contacts and plans go to http://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/services/eas/chairs.html.
  • CMAS: go to http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/ipaws/cmas_factsheet.pdf to learn more about CMAS.
  • FCC rules pertaining to CMAS: http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2010-title47-vol1/pdf/CFR-2010-title47-vol1-part10.pdf
  • NOAA/NWS HazCollect System: go to http://www.weather.gov/os/hazcollect/ for further information about HazCollect.
  • OASIS Emergency Management Technical Committee: go to http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/tc_home.php?wg_abbrev=emergency for further information about activities of OASIS relating to emergency management.
  • EAS-CAP Industry Group: go to http://www.eas-cap.org to access the EAS-CAP Industry Group website.


Lesson Summary

This lesson provides an overview of IPAWS, its operation and benefits.

You should now be able to:

  • Define Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS)
  • Identify the benefits of using IPAWS for generating warnings
  • Describe IPAWS operation

In the next lesson, you will learn about and apply the criteria for creating appropriate, effective and accessible alert and warning messages.