AURORA | Emergency management staff at the City of Aurora are poised to gain access to a warning tool developed by the federal government to message cellphones in the path of natural disasters.
The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, established by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2006, spreads messages from partner agencies about wildfires, floods and other emergencies.
The emergency messages are transmitted to providers of AM, FM and satellite radio, as well as broadcast, cable and satellite TV. They’re also sent to wireless providers, who use cellular towers to broadcast the messages to cellphones in a specific geographic area.
FEMA’s website notes that cellular alerts can be sent “even if cellular networks are overloaded and can no longer support calls, text and emails.”
While Aurora could ask counties or the state to transmit messages now using the IPAWS platform, a proposed agreement between FEMA and the City of Aurora would allow the city to access the platform on its own, cutting out the middleman in situations where minutes and seconds could mean the difference between life and death.
“Having direct access to this system will be another tool in our public alert and warning capability to communicate with as many community members as possible in the event of an emergency,” said Matt Chapman, the city’s emergency manager.
Aurora’s City Council decided this week that the agreement could move forward to a regular meeting to be voted on formally — an early sign of support.
Chapman said getting FEMA’s blessing to use IPAWS involved an online training and adopting a notification software compatible with IPAWS. Aurora uses CodeRED software, which also has the ability to send emergency messages to residents’ cellphones.
CodeRED does not allow the city to send targeted messages based on the location of a phone, however, and members of the public must first sign up to receive alerts on their devices. The software also contacts residents via landlines, email and teletype machines used by people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Council members are scheduled to vote next week on the agreement, after which Chapman said Aurora will begin a several-month process of developing an internal use policy as well as training all employees who may use the system.