Upgraded WEA is Here

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A suite of upgrades to Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) is now available to emergency managers, carriers and the public. The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administers the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System through which all WEA are authenticated, validated, and delivered to participating carriers. FEMA told the FCC that IPAWS is now available to support the WEA upgrades.   

Local officials are now better able to send geo-targeted wireless alerts to areas affected by an emergency without reaching unaffected communities, which will increase confidence in alerting and promote public safety — especially during evacuations. Officials can also now send more informative and relevant content in alert messages, the FCC said on Thursday.  

As a result of Commission rules, the following improvements are available:

  • Geographic Accuracy: Wireless carriers that participate in WEA must deliver the messages to the area specified by the alert originator with no more than a 1/10 of a mile overshoot, as opposed to the prior “best approximation” standard.
  • Longer Messages and Better Reach: WEA will accommodate longer messages—an increase from 90 to 360 characters—and messages in Spanish. 
  • New Alert Type: There is a new class of alerts (“Public Safety Messages”) for officials to convey recommendations for saving lives or property, such as the location of emergency shelters after a disaster.
  • Better Testing: Emergency managers can now conduct state and local WEA tests that reach only consumers who choose to participate, and these tests do not require a waiver from the agency.

In addition, as of last May, all participating wireless providers must support “clickable” links in alerts so that messages can include links to photos and other additional information. 

To take advantage of the enhancements, emergency managers should ensure that their alerting software supports the upgrades. The Commission published FAQs about the changes to help emergency managers. 

December 20, 2019

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