FEMA Begins Testing AWARN Alert System

Tests will assess the feasibility of a new public alert and warning system.
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Tests will assess the feasibility of a new public alert and warning system.

In the IPAWS Lab located at the Joint Interoperability Test Command in Indian Head, Md., FEMA will demonstrate the feasibility and operational deployment of the AWARN alert system, known as the Advanced Warning and Response Network.

When finalized, this network may be able to deliver more detailed emergency information to the public, be it videos of evacuation routes, storm tracks or shelter information, in an effort to increase preparedness.

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AWARN equipment will be put through the paces at the IPAWS Lab, where closed-environment testing will be employed to assess its capabilities. Testing will begin with the existing Mobile Emergency Alert System (M-EAS) using current-generation digital broadcast technology. The goal is to use new next-gen broadcasting technology for advanced emergency alerting.

“[This is a] major addition to FEMA’s network of networks for public safety communications,” said John Lawson, AWARN senior advisor. This type of advanced alerting will provide vital information to the public, even when a cellular network is not functioning or if an electric grid isn’t intact, he said.

TheATSC 3.0 next-generation broadcast standard was designed to provide more robust transmission, higher data throughput and improved indoor reception. The capability for advanced emergency alerts such as AWARN will be integrated into the new ATSC 3.0 standard.

Currently, when a state, regional or local authority generates an emergency alert, text and tone alerts are sent to viewers and listeners. AWARN will use the new capabilities within ATSC 3.0 to deliver additional media alerts including video, photographs, text, evacuation routes, maps, plume models, radar images, html pages, shelter information and Amber Alerts.

This use of rich media would allow the public to search via the broadcast transmission stream for more information on each alert.

Lawson said that testing at the IPAWS Lab is also is an opportunity for emergency managers to consider the future options like multilingual alerts and accessible alerts like text-to-speech. Initial FEMA testing with first-generation technology will lay the groundwork for further testing over the next year, he said.

AWARN is supported by broadcasters and technology companies including Gates Air, LG Electronics and its subsidiary Zenith, Digital Alert Systems, Monroe Electronics, Triveni Digital, NAB Labs, Capital Broadcasting, PBS, Convergence Services and others.