FEMA’s iPAWS Deadline Quickly Approaching

The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), developed under the FCC and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is set to become law on June 30, 2012. Broadcast television stations, radio, and cable television systems need to make sure their Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) equipment supports the next-generation Emergency Alert System (EAS), which includes audio, video and text messages sent to TV, radio and cell phones, or risk getting fined for non-compliance.

As part of the revised FCC regulations that were published on April 23, broadcasters and cable operators must implement the required equipment into their facilities to handle the expanded EAS requirements, which now includes digital alert messaging formatted in the CAP data format. They must monitor IPAWS messaging but distribute to the public as they see fit. Not all messages are required to be passed along. It’s up to the individual stations or groups of stations within a state broadcasters’ association.

“You station can elect not to air certain messages (like thunder storm warnings) but they must pass along alerts from the president and do a monthly test of the Emergency Alert System,” said Ed Czarnecki, senior director for strategy, development, and regulatory affairs at Monroe Electronics. He also co-chairs an FCC committee that is working on recommendations for implementing the new CAP EAS system. That FCC committee is expected to compile additional reports on CAP migration in June and September.

State-Specific Implementation

Typically, a state’s broadcasting agency will decide on which specific IPAWS-compliant system to use and recommend that to its member stations in its region. Each state makes it own decisions and this has led to different states using different technologies.

There are currently 20 states that use some form of CAP-based system, according to Czarnecki. Individual counties or even cities could also send CAP alerts. For example, Sedgwick County, Kansas will be using the Monroe DASEOC CAP originator to send CAP alerts to the IPAWS infrastructure. Publicly, the rest of the state of Kansas is still determining which way to go.

“Depending upon the state EAS plan, you have the county official that might want to initiate EAS and cell alerts via IPAWS, you have the state emergency management agency which sends alerts to iPAWs and you have state police issuing Amber Alerts and other warnings,” said Czarnecki. “There’s a lot of different agencies to consider, and you as a station must be sure to work with all of them.”

The output is standards-based (CAP with the IPAW profile), so it ensures interoperability among stations using different manufacturers equipment.

To date most stations have made arrangements for and implemented some type of IPAWS-compliant system. Companies that make the required CAP EAS equipment include Monroe Electronics/Digital Alert Systems (DAS), Gorman Redlich, Sage Alerting Systems, and TFT, Inc. DAS has received the necessary FCC certification while the others are in the process of getting their respective equipment certified and should be fully compliant by June 30th. The equipment costs about $2,500 on average to purchase and is relatively easy to install. All products include software that can be updated to handle a range of potential changes in requirements that may be forthcoming from the FCC and FEMA.

The Word is getting Out

“State broadcasting associations have been very active in terms of warning their membership about the June 30 deadline,” Czarnecki said. “By our estimation, at least 85 percent of the broadcast market is outfitted with the required technology. Cable operators have been slower to implement it but we’ve been getting a lot of calls in the past month to make them complaint as well.”

DAS has released a new IPAWS interface (software) for its products to help stations configure their devices, IT networks and making the adjustments to their security systems in time for the June deadline. It also ensures that stations’ equipment is compatible with the latest regulations.

The new IPAWS transmissions represent an encrypted ATOM web feed (like an RSS feed) that is received by a station. The CAP EAS-compliant device will poll the iPAWS system every 60 seconds to search for electronic tags that represent different alert messages. For cell phones, mobile providers receive a Cellular Mobile Alerting System (CMAS) feed. Not every ATOM feed will make it to CMAS devices, only the most urgent. For example, an Amber Alert would go through to all platforms while a storm warning might not go to all areas because it does not carry the most serious EAS tagging.

“The alerts displayed are contingent on the person tagging it, the FEMA for properly filtering it, and the end user, who can opt out of some messages,” Czarnecki said. “No one can opt out of a national alert.”

FCC Certification Is Critical

Czarnecki warns that stations need to make sure the technology they have implemented has the proper FCC certification, based on strict lab and field-testing. DAS just announced that it is the first to receive such certification for its DASDEC-II and R189 One-Net series of EAS equipment. Both comply with the FCC's updated Part 11 regulations governing EAS.

[Czarnecki said the DASDEC EAS platform was originally granted its FCC equipment authorization in 2004 with the FCC certification ID of R8VDASDEC-1EN. The R189 One-Net system shares the same certified EAS platform.]

“Attaining this FCC approval is much more than a formality; it helps ensure the regulatory compliance of the cable operator and broadcaster using this equipment," said Czarnecki. "By completing the required Class II Permissive Change, accompanied by the Suppliers Declaration of Conformity (SDoC) requirements, we can assure customers our equipment meets all the FCC’s requirements.”

Again, stations need to be aware of the equipment they have in place and how it works. Hypothetically, a station could have purchased an EAS box two years ago in good faith that is now non-certified and, after June 30th, can be fined for non-compliance. As of April 23, the FCC required all CAP technology venders to submit their gear to an additional step of CAP certification.

“Our concern is that a broadcaster gets fined without even realizing that they are doing something wrong,” Czarnecki said. “The other issue is that if a device is not compliant, it is a detriment to the public and should be replaced. This is public safety we’re talking about here. It’s that simple.”