FEMA plans to inventory emergency systems

An agency of the Homeland Security Department is preparing to inventory the country’s federal, state and local government emergency warning systems more than two years after President Bush ordered the assessment as part of a program to integrate the country's alert systems.

As part of its effort to build the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), a part of DHS,  hopes to soon begin collecting information on the warning systems of almost 2,000 jurisdictions around the country. Although FEMA began running IPAWS pilots after the president ordered the nationwide integrated network in June 2006, the agency still has not undertaken the nationwide survey of electronic alert systems.

A FEMA spokeswoman said today the delay in starting the survey was the result of a long process in getting clearance from Office of Management and Budget under the Paperwork Reduction Act to perform the nationwide survey. An abstract of FEMA’s planned collection was published in today’s Federal Register for OMB's  review.

Officials said IPAWS will be an improvement to the current emergency alert system which relies on radio and TV audio transmissions. IPAWS will make use of mobile media such as cell phone, pagers, computers and other personal communications devices to warn citizens.

Ken Murphy, president of the National Emergency Management Association, which represents state emergency management directors, said his colleagues would have like to have seen the system implemented a long time ago. However,  Murphy said he didn’t think the delay was due to FEMA’s lack of effort.

Officials say they will use IPAWS to send alerts via audio, video or text in multiple languages, including American Sign Language and Braille and FEMA has called IPAWS the “Nation's next-generation public communications and warning capability.”

“We all truly do desire a system – and hopefully IPAWS is it – to really integrate us,” Murphy said.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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