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Emergency Alert System May Go Commercial

Emergency responders train in Oregon in 2011.

Emergency responders train in Oregon in 2011. // Ben Carlson/

Federal emergency managers are considering replacing their current custom built system for notifying the public about emergencies with a commercial alternative, contracting documents show.

The custom built system, known as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System - Open Platform for Emergency Networks, or IPAWS-OPEN, has not met a slate of minimum standards, such as operating with 99.9 percent uptime and allowing the president and other officials to alert the public about emergencies within 10 minutes, according to contracting documents posted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Dec. 20.

The current system has been dogged by glitches, too many layers of technical bureaucracy and insufficient storage space, FEMA said. The current infrastructure has often made it more difficult to respond to emergencies rather than easier, the agency said.

Those flaws raise “the risk of loss of life and damage” during a disaster, FEMA said.

IPAWS transmits emergency messages to citizens through numerous channels, including local alert systems, traditional broadcast media, Internet and cellphone alerts. 

FEMA is looking for a commercially built alternative to IPAWS that enables faster action and better communication between federal, state and tribal officials and the public and that uses more advanced storage, including possibly placing some portions of the system in the cloud. 

(Image via Ben Carlson />

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