FEMA Experimenting At IPAWS TSSF

When government agencies get involved, prepare for new acronyms.

Two leading TV broadcasting industry organizations recently announced their strategic partnership with Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (FEMA IPAWS) to establish an end-to-end NextGen TV broadcast system at the IPAWS Technical Support Services Facility (TSSF), near Washington, D.C.

The NextGen Video Information Systems Alliance (NVISA) and the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) also debuted a complete ATSC 3.0 broadcast chain within the FEMA IPAWS TSSF facility. NVISA and ATSC say the purpose of the ATSC 3.0 broadcast chain is to “provide significant opportunities for educating government and private sector stakeholders and open the door to expanded public-private conversations on potential opportunities and requirements for next generation public warning systems and advanced broadcast services.” Some might call it a lab.

IPAWS is the only way to access and send Wireless Emergency Alert warnings to mobile phones. Image courtesy FEMA.

IPAWS is the only way to access and send Wireless Emergency Alert warnings to mobile phones. Image courtesy FEMA.

The ATSC 3.0 broadcast chain allows FEMA IPAWS to test advanced broadcast warning practices securely in real-world scenarios and experiment with ATSC 3.0-enabled technologies. The ATSC 3.0 system interfaces with the FEMA IPAWS network to aggregate alerts directed for both broadcast (EAS) and mobile (WEA) and directs them into ATSC 3.0-enabled services.

“The implementation will establish the TSSF as one of the first full-circle testbeds for ATSC 3.0 advanced emergency messaging integration with IPAWS, highlighting FEMA’s commitment to remaining on the forefront of technological advancement,” IPAWS program director Manny Centeno said.

What Is IPAWS?

IPAWS is designed to push local emergency and safety information to every local internet user, tuned in to broadcast stations or not. FEMA describes IPAWS as "a tool that Federal, State, Local, Tribal, and Territorial (FSLTT) public safety agencies can use to notify the public of disasters and deliver emergency and public safety information. It provides authenticated emergency and life-saving information to the public through mobile phones using Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs), to radio and television via the Emergency Alert System (EAS), and on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Weather Radio."

For TV broadcasters, the use of IPAWS is optional. All you need to participate is Public Alerting Permission from FEMA, computer software able to create IPAWS-compliant messages, and a reliable internet connection. Access to IPAWS is restricted to FSLTT authorities and Alerting Authorities. To achieve Alerting Authority status, you must: Complete IPAWS web-based training; Select an IPAWS-compatible alerting software; Apply for a Memorandum of Agreement with FEMA; and Apply for Public Alerting Permissions.

According to FEMA, there are currently more than 1800 IPAWS Alerting Agencies, sending over 600 WEAs each month. IPAWS Amber Alerts have led to the recovery of more than 180 missing children.

The joint IPAWS/EAS National Test in the US on 4 October 2023 was a unique exercise that worked. Image courtesy FEMA.

The joint IPAWS/EAS National Test in the US on 4 October 2023 was a unique exercise that worked. Image courtesy FEMA.

Also, FEMA says, “The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that requires radio and TV broadcasters, cable TV, wireless cable systems, satellite and wireline operators to provide the President with capability to address the American people within 10 minutes during a national emergency. Broadcast, cable, and satellite operators are the stewards of this important public service in close partnership with state, local, tribal, and territorial authorities.

FEMA, in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is responsible for implementing, maintaining and operating the EAS at the federal level.” You may remember the joint coordinated IPAWS/EAS National Test in the US on 4 October 2023. Most broadcasters and cell phone users agree it was a success. Nearly everyone heard or received the same message at nearly the same time.

What Is CAP?

The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), is a digital format for exchanging emergency alerts, allowing a consistent alert message to be disseminated simultaneously over multiple communications pathways. FEMA worked with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) to develop the IPAWS standard. OASIS is responsible for developing and maintaining dozens of historic international standards and frameworks.

In addition to the basic CAP standard, a supplemental IPAWS Profile technical specification was developed to ensure compatibility with existing warning systems used in the United States. FEMA has formally adopted CAP and the IPAWS Profile to implement IPAWS.

What Is TSSF?

The IPAWS Technical Support Services Facility (TSSF, formerly known as the IPAWS Lab) is staffed 24/7/365 with subject-matter experts experienced in emergency management, public safety communications, public works, and broadcasting, who assist Alerting Authorities with IPAWS needs. The TSSF also hosts a closed, end-to-end, IPAWS environment for alert creation and dissemination to all IPAWS pathways including the Emergency Alert System, Wireless Emergency Alerts, Non-Weather Emergency Messages and IPAWS All-Hazards Information Feed so that Alerting Authorities may train, practice, and exercise alert, warning, and notification procedures and processes.

Several NVISA and ATSC members provided technology and expertise for the closed-circuit TSSF environment. Digital Alert Systems provided alert and advanced emergency information management. Harmonic Inc furnished its live media processor. Hitachi Kokusai Electric Comark supplied an ATSC 3.0 exciter/transmitter. Triveni Digital gear is used for ATSC 3.0 scheduling and transport encoding.

WRAL/Capitol Broadcasting supplied a video server and broadcast video content. DekTec provided an ATSC 3.0 test modulator. Zapperbox was used for an ATSC 1.0/3.0-enabled set-top receiver and home gateway. Zinwell also provided its ATSC 1.0/3.0-enabled set-top receiver and home gateway.

The NVISA logo. Image courtesy NVISA.

The NVISA logo. Image courtesy NVISA.

Who Is NVISA?

The NextGen Video Information Systems Alliance is an international industry coalition committed to accelerating the development and implementation of next-generation approaches for information services over broadcast and multichannel systems.

The NVISA mission is to present a common voice on advanced video information issues, promoting knowledge of industry solutions, and driving the adoption of next-generation capabilities. NVISA members include broadcast equipment manufacturers, developers, and broadcast television operators.

"By bringing together NVISA, ATSC, and FEMA IPAWS, we want to make certain that ATSC 3.0 is well-positioned for the future. This includes reinforcing broadcast television’s role as a first informer during emergencies and leveraging a range of advanced services,” said NVISA Chair Ed Czarnecki.

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