Skip to Highlights
Highlights

A comprehensive system to alert the American people in times of hazard allows people to take action to save lives. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is responsible for the current Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the development of the new Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). In this requested report, GAO examined (1) the current status of EAS, (2) the progress made by FEMA in implementing an integrated alert and warning system, and (3) the challenges involved in implementing an integrated alert and warning system. GAO conducted a survey of states, reviewed FEMA and other documentation, and interviewed industry stakeholders and officials from federal agencies responsible for public alerting.

Skip to Recommendations

Recommendations

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Homeland Security 1. In order that the public alert and warning system be conceived of, designed, and implemented, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator, FEMA to improve program management and align IPAWS's vision with the requirements established in the executive order, implement processes for systems development and deployment, including (1) updating IPAWS strategic goals and milestones, implementation plans, and performance measures; (2) prioritizing projects in consultation with stakeholders; and (3) creating the necessary documentation on system design and specific release schedules for IPAWS.
Closed - Implemented
In 2009, we reported that FEMA's IPAWS program is intended to integrate new and existing alert capabilities into a comprehensive solution for public alerts and warnings as required by an executive order. We found that strategic goals, milestones, and performance measures for the IPAWS program were not clearly defined. Furthermore, we found the vision of IPAWS had changed twice over the course of the program and that IPAWS operated without an implementation plan from early 2007 through June 2009. To improve program management and align IPAWS's vision with the requirements established in the executive order, we recommended that FEMA update IPAWS strategic goals and milestones, implementation plans, and performance measures. FEMA responded to this recommendation by issuing an IPAWS strategic plan, which provided key milestones that were most recently updated in the IPAWS Life Cycle Cost Estimate in September 2011. More recently, FEMA has published its milestones and goals for 2012 on its website, as of June 2012. In September 2011 and January 2012, FEMA also issued official program documents describing key performance parameters that FEMA considers essential for successful mission accomplishment. Taken together, these documents more clearly define FEMA's vision, mission, strategic goals, and performance measures for IPAWS and help to ensure that the functional goals of IPAWS, such as dissemination of emergency alerts through redundant pathways to multiple devices, will reach operational capacity.
Department of Homeland Security 2. In order that the public alert and warning system be conceived of, designed, and implemented, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator, FEMA to improve program transparency and accountability, report periodically to the the Congress and the Secretary of Homeland Security on progress toward achieving an integrated public alert and warning system. The report should include information on ongoing IPAWS projects, financial information on program expenditures, and status updates in achieving performance measures and reaching milestones.
Closed - Implemented
In 2009, we found that FEMA did not periodically report on the progress of IPAWS implementation, even though periodic reporting on a program can help to increase program transparency, establish greater program accountability, and assure a reasonable assessment of return on financial investments. Without periodic reporting, program transparency and accountability were lacking and FEMA's private sector partners and those in government at the federal, state, and local level did not readily have information necessary to help establish IPAWS. We recommended that FEMA report periodically to the Congress and the Secretary of Homeland Security on progress toward achieving IPAWS and noted that the report should include information on ongoing IPAWS projects, financial information on program expenditures, and status updates in achieving performance measures and reaching milestones. In response to our recommendation, from 2009 to 2012, FEMA periodically reported on IPAWS progress to congressional committees and subcommittees and the Department of Homeland Security. These reports included information on ongoing IPAWS projects, financial information, and status updates. As a result, FEMA improved program transparency and accountability, and provided government and private sector stakeholders with information necessary to help establish IPAWS.
Department of Homeland Security 3. In order that the public alert and warning system be conceived of, designed, and implemented, the Secretary of Homeland Security should direct the Administrator, FEMA to help ensure system dependability, as IPAWS is developed and deployed, establish and implement a plan to verify (1) the dependability and effectiveness of systems used to disseminate alerts, and (2) that IPAWS participants have the training and technical skills to make use of IPAWS infrastructure and to issue effective public alerts.
Closed - Implemented
In 2009, we reported that as IPAWS is developed and deployed, it is important that IPAWS participants are adequately trained. We noted that this was especially important given that a longstanding weakness of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the only operational component of IPAWS in 2009, was inadequate training. A lack of training raised questions about whether the system would work as intended during a national emergency. We recommend that FEMA ensure that IPAWS participants have the training and technical skills to make use of IPAWS infrastructure and to issue effective public alerts. In response, FEMA contracted with a company to develop training courses on IPAWS, as outlined in FEMA's Training Management Plan, dated February 2012. For example, there is a 2-hour training course on IPAWS, available on FEMA's Emergency Management Institute website as of May 2012, required for all emergency managers and authorized alerting officials who will use IPAWS. In addition, FEMA created an EAS Best Practices Guide prior to the nationwide EAS test conducted in November 2011. The training courses and materials will help to ensure that IPAWS participants are adequately trained, increasing the likelihood that the system will work as intended during a national emergency.

Full Report