DHS OIG: FEMA Has Limited Responsibility for State, Local Alerts
Monday, November 26, 2018 | Comments

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG) concluded that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has limited responsibility for sending and canceling state and local alerts.

Following the Jan. 13, 2018, false missile alert in Hawaii, Congress requested OIG examine FEMA’s role in the incident. As part of the review, the office sought to determine whether FEMA exercises appropriate oversight of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) used to send alerts to the public.

Although FEMA maintains IPAWS as a messaging platform, state and local alerting authorities must obtain commercially available emergency alert software to generate a message that passes through IPAWS for authentication and delivery. However, FEMA does not require that this software perform functions critical to the alerting process, such as the ability to preview or cancel an alert. Instead, FEMA only recommends that software vendors include these capabilities as “best practices.” FEMA also does not require that software vendors provide training to alerting authorities on how to use their chosen software. As a result, alerting authorities have experienced difficulties in various aspects of the alerting process.

OIG made two recommendations to improve the FEMA IPAWS Program Management Office’s oversight of IPAWS. The report recommends that FEMA require software vendors to include critical functions in their proprietary emergency alerting software that FEMA previously identified and communicated in 2015 and 2018. In addition, FEMA should require software vendors to provide training on system functionality and capabilities to alerting authorities.

FEMA concurred with the recommendations and is implementing corrective actions to enhance the effectiveness of the IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO). The full report is here.

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