IPAWS, CAP, FEMA, and EAS: The new emergency warning system and the acronyms that go with it

If you work with a radio station, there's something new you need to know about emergency alerts! The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is getting ready to implement the Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS). IPAWS is a system for sending emergency messages to the public through the Internet using the new Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). The new system will allow community radio stations to provide another level of emergency warnings to listeners, but it will cost most stations thousands of dollars to implement.

IPAWS is an addition to the older Emergency Alert System (EAS). EAS is used for sending emergency warnings over radio and TV. If you've heard a series of tones, sometimes called "duck quacks," followed by a voice saying, "This is a test of the emergency alert system", then you've heard EAS in action. Community radio stations have used EAS to save lives in times of emergency. Unfortunately, the system is fairly limited since EAS messages only contain brief, basic information. The new CAP protocol, however, allows these messages to carry extra text and audio as well as photos, video, and pdfs. IPAWS isn't going to take the place of EAS at this point. Instead, broadcasters can consider IPAWS as a new input to their EAS receivers.

Because the implementation for the new IPAWS was a bit hurried, the FCC recently agreed to its extend the deadline for compliance. The FCC originally announced that radio and TV stations must be capable of receiving CAP messages by March 30, 2011, but the deadline will likely be extended by six months. To receive and decode the messages, most stations will either need a new EAS, which costs upwards of $2000, or a CAP-to-EAS converter, which costs around $1500. Even with the expected extension, the timeline for this is tight - some EAS manufacturers haven't even produced equipment to receive the new alerts! We will update our FAQ (/eas_cap_basics) as more information becomes available.

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