# Public Safety

How To Guard Against Sending Out False Emergency Mass Notifications

Never let a communication misstep damage your relationship with your community members.


May 29, 2023
15 min

“Trust can be broken in just a few seconds, but it can take years to heal.”

– REI Anthony Albon

One of the most valuable and fragile things a local government can earn from its community members is their trust — trust that the community’s leaders will use every tool, service, and communication method available to keep residents safe and informed and keep the community clean and prosperous. One of the most significant risks to the relationship between local governments and their residents is that an inadvertent communication error damages residents’ perceptions of their local government’s trustworthiness.

For public safety communicators, one of the worst mistakes you can make is an inaccurate or inadvertent warning message or urgent alert spreading erroneous information that puts unnecessary fear into the minds of locals and visitors.

Unfortunately, such a potentially damaging situation occurred in Florida on April 20, 2023. Residents awoke blurry-eyed to an early morning Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) test alert — but it wasn’t clear that the frightening message was a test. The Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) distributed the alert in error from the state’s emergency notification system. Officials explained that the emergency notification test was meant initially for television broadcasters only. Yet the community members who received the warning in error were left frustrated by the receipt of the alarming information. For the FDEM, the road to rebuilding trust with their community members will likely be long.

Our Commitment to Reliable Mass Notification Technology

At CivicPlus®,  we are committed to providing mass notification technology that empowers public safety leaders to create and distribute timely and accurate emergency notifications. Just as critically, our solution minimizes the potential risks of test communications being broadly distributed in error and without proper context.

The CivicPlus Mass Notification System’s Integration With IPAWS

Our Mass Notification system integrates with FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). This interconnected communication network alerts residents and travelers at risk of an imminent threat in their current area. IPAWS leverages national emergency communication channels, including:

  • The Emergency Alert System (EAS) for television and radio alerts
  • Wireless emergency alerts (WEA) for cell phone alerts
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) weather radios for non-weather emergency messages (NWEM) broadcast through NOAA’s channels
  • Other unique and future systems, such as sirens, digital signage, and internet-based services

IPAWS is essential to a robust emergency communication strategy as it complements the custom configurations available within a community’s mass notification system.

Safeguarding Against Inadvertent Message Distributions With Separate Live and Test Environments

Some prompts within our Mass Notification system’s IPAWS integration functionality prevent the unintentional delivery of incomplete, incorrect, or test information. Administrators must confirm their message and audience and clearly identify the notification as live.

The interface provides a preview message in the test and live environments, keeping the functionality and audiences separate. The system provides administrators with a final communication preview before sending the message, allowing the information to be validated and confirmed one last time.

In addition, the sender of a live IPAWS alert must type “Live” into the system and press a button that states “Yes, Send Live Alert.”

In addition, administrators can send a test message to a specified recipient group and IPAWS using a test certificate. They can also review their test message within the IPAWS message viewer functionality.

For situations when you want to send a mass notification without IPAWS integration, such as when an alert is communicating only a minor local inconvenience like a temporary road closure, administrators can send a test message just to themselves to validate that their communication and its formatting are clear and accurate.

If you worry that when a disaster strikes, you will be unsure exactly how to craft your message, FEMA offers templates to help public safety communicators prepare effective emergency alert messages. FEMA also provides scenarios to help you build messages when participating in the Monthly Proficiency Demonstration required by FEMA for all Alerting Authorities.

Empowering Swift, Effective Message Distribution

Every feature of our Mass Notification system has been designed to enable the quick creation and distribution of urgent communications. The software system defines each step and field within the interface. It is so easy to use that even an administrator with minimal IPAWS training can generate and distribute an accurate warning or correction message. Understanding that local governments face numerous threats, such as natural disasters or threats from dangerous persons, we have designed the system to empower you to confidently create, confirm, and send a message in seconds.

Make Regular System Testing Part of Your Crisis Preparedness Planning

FEMA recommends that all alerting authorities conduct regular system testing and practice to ensure administrators feel confident in leveraging the system quickly and accurately when an emergency occurs. For communities that rely on the CivicPlus Mass Notification system and its integration with IPAWS, CivicPlus, and FEMA offer 24/7 technical phone support, ensuring administrators are never alone when executing an emergency mass notification communication.

For IPAWS support specifically, email the IPAWS Technical Support Services Facility or call toll-free, 1-84-IPAWSLAB, or 1-844-729-7522 24 hours a day, seven days per week, including holidays.

Finally, IPAWS allows live WEA testing with the Required Weekly Test (RWT) event code for even greater peace of mind. Alerting authorities no longer need to petition the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prepare for WEA use. The RWT process enables public safety communicators to send a WEA alert to phones that have opted to receive text alerts within their device’s Emergency Alert settings. Visit FEMA.com for more information.

If you are not using a mass notification system today, consider taking a self-guided demo of our CivicPlus solution and strengthening your disaster communication response plan before implementing it.

Written by