The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) partners with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the United States to operate the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS). This system is utilized to notify American citizens of emergencies using mobile devices, radios, and television.
Have you ever been watching television and unexpectedly seen an alert graphic appear on the screen accompanied by a prolonged tone, followed by a voice announcing, “This is a test. This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. This is only a test”? This is a component of IPAWS, which has been in existence for a considerable amount of time.
If you are not yet acquainted with the current situation, we have created this frequently asked questions (FAQ) guide to assist you in comprehending its functioning.
Frequently Asked Questions: FEMA’s Wireless Emergency Alerts
What is IPAWS?
The Integrated Public Alert & Warning System was established to effectively send emergency alerts to citizens in the United States. These alerts are distributed through three channels:
Mobile devices: These gadgets receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) as defined by FEMA.
Radio transmissions are included in the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which encompasses NOAA Weather Radio as well.
TV programs are included in the Emergency Alert System (EAS), but streaming platforms like Apple TV+ do not fall under EAS and therefore do not broadcast alerts.
What types of notifications are displayed on cell phones?
Mobile devices receive Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) which are brief messages (up to 360 characters, typically 90) sent by authorized government agencies. These alerts include an audio tone and vibration to notify the user of an urgent message on their phone. The audio and vibration are not continuous, similar to a text message from someone else. However, they may have different sounds and vibrations than what the user is accustomed to, and will still play even if the phone is on silent mode.
Who is notified?
Cellular service providers that are part of the IPAWS system enable FEMA to transmit Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) to their subscribers. If your provider is included in IPAWS (such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and most others), you will receive an alert. However, not all providers are part of IPAWS, but the majority of the leading carriers are.
What are the notifications indicating?
Notifications are sent to inform about an urgent circumstance. They may suggest general steps to take and may also include a contact number for retrieving a recorded message with further details.
During a test of IPAWS by FEMA, the WEA will display the message, “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is required.” If your phone is set to Spanish, the WEA message will be in Spanish.
How frequently are WEA tests conducted?
In 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021, and 2023, FEMA carried out EAS tests. The initial country-wide WEA test for the “Presidential Alert” was sent to all active WEA-compatible wireless devices in 2018.
What should I do if I receive an alert?
The notification may simply inform about an ongoing emergency situation. It is your choice whether or not to follow any recommended actions. You have the option to disregard the notifications entirely. Your response to a notification is entirely up to you.
Can I dismiss/remove an alert if I receive one?
There are no consequences for dismissing, erasing, or disregarding an alert. FEMA will not be informed of your actions regarding the alert. Additionally, there is no option to reply or inquire about the alert.
How do I stop receiving notifications?
By default, iPhones will receive notifications, but you have the option to disable WEAs (Wireless Emergency Alerts) even if your provider is part of IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System). It is possible to block all WEAs, including test messages and emergency alerts. Follow these steps to turn off alerts on iOS 17.
Launch the Settings application and select the Notifications option.
Navigate to the bottom of the screen. This process may take some time if you have numerous apps. Look for a section called Government Alerts.
To stop receiving government alerts, disable all settings in this section.
Click on Emergency Notifications.
Disable the Emergency Alerts settings to automatically disable the feature for Always Play Sound. Alternatively, you can keep the Emergency Alerts setting enabled and manually disable Always Play Sound.
To activate these settings, simply follow the instructions above and toggle the switches.
What is the purpose of FEMA conducting IPAWS tests?
The IPAWS Modernization Act was enacted in 2015, mandating that FEMA conducts tests to verify the functionality of the system. Following each test, FEMA evaluates any necessary enhancements or corrections.
FEMA offers the IPAWS Best Practices, a set of guidelines for effectively sending alerts, warnings, and notifications. The document is accessible to the general public and outlines the operational processes of IPAWS.
How frequently does FEMA conduct tests?
According to the IPAWS Modernization Act, FEMA is required to conduct a test of the iPAWS system at least once every three years. The upcoming test is scheduled for October 4, 2023 at 2:20 p.m. Eastern time. The previous test took place on August 11, 2021. There will be another test before 2026, but FEMA has not yet announced the specific date.
If FEMA is unable to conduct its October 4 test, it will be rescheduled for October 11.
What is the duration of the tests?
FEMA has designated a 30-minute timeframe for conducting its tests. During the October 4th test, mobile phones will receive a WEA alert between 2:20 and 2:50 p.m. Eastern time. Once a phone receives the test message, it will not receive it again and the test will be concluded.
The notification for the WEA is not constant and will not repeatedly play during the 30-minute timeframe. It will only sound twice when it is received on your phone.
Is this utilized by the government to obtain information from my phone?
This is not a method for FEMA to gain access to your phone and its information. It is simply a one-way message. Your phone will not establish a continuous connection. Additionally, iOS has been designed by Apple to require permission from users before any app can track their location, so a FEMA alert cannot track you without your knowledge.
What steps can I take to increase my knowledge?
There are multiple websites available from FEMA that contain additional information and can be accessed for further details.
- FEMA website
Commonly Asked Questions about the IPAWS National Test
On October 4, 2023, there will be a nationwide test for emergency alerts.
What do Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and the Emergency Alert System (EAS) refer to?
- IPAWS Best Practices guide
- FEMA iPhone app