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Personal Alerts: What Should Mobile Subscribers Expect Now that CMAS Implementation is Moving Forward?

Author: Mark Titus, TeleCommunication Systems, Inc.

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2012-05-16
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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has recently completed production launch of the Integrated Personal Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) gateway used to transmit geographically targeted information to mobile subscribers via the Commercial Mobile Alerts System (CMAS). 

CMAS is a new public safety system that allows people who own an enabled mobile device to receive geographically targeted, text-like messages alerting them of imminent threats to safety in their area. This alerting follows you wherever you go and does not require previous knowledge of zip codes or advance registration.

This new technology ensures that emergency alerts will not get stuck in highly congested user areas, which can happen with standard mobile voice and texting services. How does CMAS alerting work?

  • Authorized national, state or local government officials send alerts regarding public safety emergencies (such as a tornado warning or a terrorism alert) to CMAS.
  • CMAS then authenticates the alert, verifies that the sender is authorized and sends it to participating wireless carriers.
  • The wireless carriers then push the alerts from their cell towers to CMAS-enabled mobile devices in the affected area. The alerts appear like text messages.

 

CMAS Features that Users Can Expect

CMAS technology will provide key alerting features to subscribers that differ from conventional alerts systems in use today. These key features are:

  • Geographically Targeted: A wireless customer living in downtown New York City would not receive a CMAS alert if he or she happens to be in Chicago when the alert is sent. Similarly, someone visiting downtown New York City from Chicago on that same day would receive the alert (assuming the customer has a CMAS-enabled mobile device and his or her wireless carrier participates in CMAS).
  • Covers Only Critical Emergency Alerts: Customers will receive only three types of alerts from CMAS: 1) alerts issued by the President; 2) alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life; and 3) AMBER AlertsTM.
  • Customers are Automatically Signed Up: As long as customers meet the requirements (they have a CMAS-enabled mobile device and are a subscriber with a participating wireless carrier), they do not need to sign-up for this service. Participating carriers may allow subscribers to block all but the Presidential alerts.
  • Alerts are Free: Customers do not pay to receive CMAS alerts.
  • Unique Alert Sound and Vibration: A CMAS alert will be accompanied by a unique alert sound and vibration, which is particularly helpful to people with hearing or vision-related disabilities.

CMAS-compatible devices are denoted by the Cellular Telecommunication Industry Association (CTIA) as being wireless emergency alerts-capable (http://www.ctia.org/consumer_info/safety/index.cfm/AID/12081), and a recent survey of carrier web sites indicates that there are over 30 CMAS-compatible mobile devices commercially available for sale.

 

Current Plans for Rolling out Alerting Technology to Consumers

Commercial Mobile Service Providers (CMSPs) that opted in with the FCC to transmit CMAS alerts were required to be online by April 7, 2012. Although some carriers have been successful in meeting the April 7th deadline, others have had challenges. Recently, the Rural Cellular Association, Rural Telecommunications Group and several wireless carriers have asked the FCC to give carriers more time to prepare to carry CMAS messages, with some entities saying that rural carriers in particular have faced delays outside of their control in complying with the April 7 deadline (TRDaily, April 6).

As of the date of this article, those carriers that are in production are likely not yet processing live CMAS alerts since only a limited number of authorized government agencies have completed the FEMA approval and certification process and gone online with the IPAWS gateway. An updated list of government entities approved for authoring CMAS alerts is maintained by FEMA and can be found at: http://www.fema.gov/emergency/ipaws/authorized_localities.shtm. The largest source of government alerts is anticipated to be the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/National Weather Service and is expected to be online in the near future.

 

Conclusion

Today, text messages have become a reliable means of communicating during emergency events. As FEMA mentions on its web site, voice data networks may be congested after a disaster, so wireless device subscribers are urged to send a text message or e-mail to loved ones to let them know they’re OK. Unlike a voice call, which requires dedicated circuits to be established during the entire duration of the call, text messages are packetized and are thus delivered within seconds, given available network resources.

The CMAS alerting system uses life-saving technology that is expected to reach vast numbers of mobile devices in a fast and efficient manner. Currently CMAS is in early adoption by government agencies and CMSPs. As we build on CMSP service availability, it seems a logical next step to expand the service to rural areas and determine the readiness of our wireless carriers to transmit a nationwide alert test message to reach the nearly 300 million mobile subscribers here in the U.S.

Vendor’s Corner is a guest column about product and vendor issues and solutions.  Mark Titus is Vice President of Messaging Product Management for TeleCommunication Systems, Inc.   For more information, see www.telecomsys.com/

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