From AAPD (2.18.11):
Emergency Issues: FEMA Continues Efforts to Include People with Disabilities
On Friday February 4, 2011, AAPD's Jenifer Simpson attended a briefing and update by the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) on the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). The meeting, lead by IPAWS Deputy Director Antwane Johnson, and hosted by Marcie Roth, FEMA’s Disability Coordinator, focused on ways the IPAWS program is accessible and usable for people with disabilities. They also talked about how to spread the word about the new approach to national emergency alerts. The meeting included representatives from the U.S. Access Board, National Disability Rights Network, National Council on Independent Living, in addition to many federal agency representatives.
IPAWS is the next generation of the Emergency Alert System that most of us know via radio and TV announcements when they say “this is a test of the emergency alert system.” IPAWS, however, will integrate these TV and radio announcements with messages on cell phones, through Internet services, via weather alert and local systems such as AMBER, electronic road signage and “reverse 911” systems. The aim is to be able to send “one message over more devices to more people for maximum safety” using different technologies. IPAWS will also take in messages from alerting authorities, like local, state, and tribal governments, to authenticate and validate them, and then to properly disseminate them.
To help JFActivst readers visualize the “IPAWS architecture,” there is a drawing at http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/ipaws/architecture_diagram.pdf
Attendees heard about the need for interoperability to ensure that one message can go out beyond traditional TV and radio. To address this, FEMA formally adopted, in September 2010, the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) as a technical specification to carry such a single message. Disability advocacy groups, such as AAPD and the organizations in the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology (COAT), had previously recommended use of CAP for such purposes and are happy to see that FEMA requires this for the product vendors and services providers that will connect together as part of IPAWS.
Advocates learned that the next stage in development of the IPAWS system is a test of how well the cell phone networks will connect for such messaging, with a test scheduled in late February 2011. Then there will a major test of the nation-wide national emergency alert system (EAS) in late September 2011. In both tests, advocates would like to hear reports afterwards on how the needs of people with disabilities were addressed. Full implementation of IPAWS is not expected until late in 2012 and even then it may not be complete as a significant effort still is needed to ensure all the devices, services and applications do in fact interoperate with each other to pass along any national emergency information. Of even more critical importance will be the need for advocacy to ensure that the devices that receive such messaging can in fact display them in the formats that we can use.
Disability advocates at the meeting provided resources on how to better provide people with disabilities the emergency information they need. Additionally, advocates recommended that FEMA and IPAWS work to produce some consumer-friendly materials about the effort and to develop a general public outreach campaign.
What you can do:
- Learn more about IPAWS on the website at http://www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws/ or write via Email to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Learn more about the current Emergency Alert System (EAS) system at http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/services/eas/
- Learn more about the Common Access Protocol (CAP) at http://www.fcc.gov/pshs/docs/csric/CSRIC%205A%20Working%20Group.pdf
- Stay mindful of local news about efforts that may involve testing of IPAWS and related activities by Emergency Managers and state governors. Ask how the needs of people with disabilities will be included.
- Contact your federal FEMA regional office to see if they have any materials or information they can share with you and others about the transformation of the nation’s emergency alerting systems to IPAWS. FEMA Regional contact information is at http://www.fema.gov/about/regions/index.shtm
- Ask your device manufacturer (cell phone, Iphone, tablet, pod, phone, TV, radio) what they are doing to ensure accessibility of their device so you will receive the emergency information that will become disseminated through the device once IPAWS is established.
Visit AAPD Emergency Information website at http://www.aapd.com/site/c.pvI1IkNWJqE/b.6428389/k.112/Emergency_Resources.htm