The Alert System
Today, the United States has a robust alert and warning system in place. It is named the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). It was created by executive order in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when various alert systems suffered significant failures. The new system took the existing alert systems and integrated them into one modern network, and included the newer forms of communication such as cell phones and the Internet. Since its creation, this new system has been successfully used by federal, state, local, and tribal authorities to send critical alerts and warnings within their jurisdictions.
There is no opt-in required to get alerts from the IPAWs alert system.
Who Issues the Warnings?
Alerting authorities come from both local and national sources. All work together to make sure you can receive alerts and warnings quickly through several different technologies no matter where you are–at home, at school, at work, or in the community.
- Local Police and Fire
- Emergency Managers
- National Weather Service (NWS)
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
- Federal Communications Commission (FCC)
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
- Private Industry
Why Getting Alerts & Warnings are Critical
Getting alerts and warnings from local, state, and national sources is crucial for several reasons.
- They provide timely information about potential threats ranging from weather warnings, to public health alerts.
- These alerts often provide guidance on what actions to take, whether it’s to evacuate, seek shelter, or avoid certain areas.
- They help to keep the public informed about ongoing situations, providing updates and changes as they occur. In essence, these alerts and warnings play a vital role in public safety and disaster management.
The nation’s alert and warning system works within a framework named the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). This infrastructure facilitates all alerts that go out to the American people.
All alerts sent out through the system fit into one of three categories:
- Imminent Threat
Participating Alert Systems
Using this interface are three separate alert system organizations:
- Emergency Alert System (EAS)
- Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)
- NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR)
#1 Emergency Alert System (EAS)
The EAS is a national public warning system.
- Broadcasters, satellite digital audio services, direct broadcast satellite providers, cable television systems, and wireless cable systems deliver state and local alerts on a voluntary basis.
- They are required, however, to deliver Presidential alerts, which enable the President to address the public during a national emergency.
- The system may also be used by state and local authorities to deliver important emergency information such as weather information, imminent threats, amber alerts, and local incident information targeted to specific areas.
- FEMA and the FCC are responsible for national-level tests and exercises. It is also used when all other means of alerting the public are unavailable.
#2 Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)
WEA’s are short emergency messages from authorized federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial public alerting authorities that can be broadcast from cell towers to any WEA‐enabled mobile device in a locally targeted area.
- WEAs can be sent by state and local public safety officials, the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the President of the United States.
- Look like text messages but are designed to get your attention with a unique sound and vibration repeated twice.
- Are no more than 360 characters and include the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert.
- Are not affected by network congestion and will not disrupt texts, calls, or data sessions that are in progress.
- You are not charged for receiving WEAs and there is no need to subscribe.
- For those with access and functional needs, many messages are TTY/TDD compatible, and many devices have accessible accommodations.
#3 NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards (NWR)
The NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, or NWR, is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting forecasts, warnings, and emergency information 24 hours a day
- It is a comprehensive weather and emergency information service available to the public.
- All-hazards messages include weather events, technological incidents like chemical spills, amber alerts, and national emergencies.
- NWR also broadcasts EAS notices.
- Use requires a purchase - consider purchasing a NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards. Be sure to look for the Public Alert or NWR logo to ensure the radio meets technical requirements.
When Opt-in is Required
While IPAWS is a common system used across the country and is used by various local jurisdictions and does not require opt-in, there can be other alert systems in place at the local level that may require residents to opt-in.
These could include systems for sending alerts via email, text message, or specific apps. In these cases, residents would need to provide their contact information and select the types of alerts they wish to receive.
To find out if your local area has an alert system that requires an opt-in, try the following:
- #1 Check with your local authorities to understand what alerts are available and whether you need to opt-in to receive them.
- #2 This information is often available on the websites of local government agencies such as the county sheriff’s office or the county emergency management agency.
Downloading apps to your phone is a smart way to dial in to rapidly changing events that can impact your community. From weather alerts to emergency prep training, emergency apps offer a lot of information that can inform you and help you keep your family safe. Once downloaded, remember to go into the settings of each app to set up alerts to your liking. Here are just a few.
- Get information from FEMA on how to prepare for common hazards and learn basic preparedness strategies like creating a family emergency communication plan, what to pack in your emergency kit, and what to do immediately after a disaster.
- Receive real-time weather and emergency alerts from the National Weather Service for up to five locations nationwide and find a nearby shelter if you need to evacuate to a safe space.
- Find out if your location is eligible for FEMA assistance and find disaster recovery center locations.
- American Red Cross offers the customization of 40 different weather alerts, monitor five locations plus your current location, and override your phone’s ‘do not disturb’ feature for alerts that you set as critical.
- Receive full weather alerts and easily find open Red Cross shelters with the interactive map and track conditions with six different weather overlays.
- Get step-by-step guides for preparing for risks most common where you live and get the to-do list, so you know exactly what actions to take.
- The Weather Channel is seen as the world's most accurate forecaster.
- Get alerts on upcoming severe weather conditions like storms, path of hurricanes, expected local rain and snowfall amounts, and relevant breaking news that cover extreme weather events and disasters such as earthquakes and wildfires.
- Get at-a-glance information about weather forecasts including today’s weather, hourly weather, your 10-day forecast, weekend forecast, and forecast for the month ahead.
- 360-Life family tracking app offers a free membership that allows you to stay connected with your loved ones by offering real-time location sharing, a 2 day location history, 2 places with unlimited alerts, family driving summary, SOS help alert, and more.
- With place alerts, you don’t need to open the app to know when your kids have left school and arrived home safely.
- Paid membership offers additional services like a 30-day location history, unlimited place alerts, crash detection, and 24/7 roadside assistance, and more.