Be prepared

Most emergency alert opportunities will lie with the states, FEMA official says

Martha Rainville

Stan Barouh

The 2007 hurricane season has been relatively
mild so far. But it is still a busy period for
Martha Rainville in her new position overseeing
national public warnings and alerts at the
Federal Emergency Management Agency.

She joined FEMA in April as deputy
administrator of continuity programs.
Rainville's responsibilities include FEMA's
Integrated Public Alert and Warning
System (IPAWS). It will expand the nation's
longstanding emergency alert system. The
goal is to fulfill an executive order that
President Bush issued in June 2006 to build
a comprehensive national warning system
that transmits voice, video and text alerts to
all media, including telephones, computers
and cell phones.

Two weeks ago, Rainville visited Mobile,
Ala., with Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff to kick off a Gulf Coast
state demonstration of IPAWS that will run
through the end of December. They urged
the public to sign up for the voluntary optin
portion of the system in which they will
receive alerts directly on their cell phones
and e-mail accounts.

"We have already signed up several thousand
people in Mississippi," Rainville said.
"We are getting some strong feedback."

In the pilot project, FEMA and Sandia
National Laboratory will deploy a Web alert
and relay network that offers collaboration
tools and access to Web sites. The system
includes an emergency telephone notification
service with automated telephone calls
delivering messages to all residents in
affected geographic areas. Both are components
of IPAWS.

Rainville, 49, is no stranger to the
Hurricane Belt. She spent much of her childhood in Port Gibson, Miss., and received her bachelor's degree from the University of
Mississippi in 1979. She joined the Air Force,
specializing in aircraft maintenance. After
moving to Vermont in 1988, she rose through
the ranks to become the nation's first female
State Adjutant General of the National
Guard in 1997. She retired from the military
after 27 years of service last year. In the 2006
elections, she was the Republican candidate
for a Vermont congressional seat, losing to
Democrat Peter Welch.

She recently spoke with Staff Writer Alice
Lipowicz about IPAWS.

WT: You have responsibility for
IPAWS and FEMA's federal continuity-
of-government and continuity-
of-operations activities.
How do those fit together?


Rainville: IPAWS is a pretty
large part of the portfolio. It is
one of the more public things
we do, and it is a high priority
for us.

WT: What are the lessons learned so far
from the IPAWS pilot project in the states
affected by hurricanes?


Rainville: The opt-in portion of IPAWS is
voluntary; you must register in advance.
The emergency telephone notification system
pushes calls out to all phones. The
technology can make 60,000 calls in 10
minutes. What we are finding is that there
are some restrictions in the infrastructure
? in the capacity of the telephone lines to
handle all the calls. We are trying to find
out what those constraints are. So far, we
have not seen any throttling of calls or collapses
in the system.

WT: What is FEMA's plan for implementing IPAWS nationwide?

Rainville: After we finish the pilot project at
the end of December, if the testing goes as
planned, our goal is to offer the states a package
of capabilities as well as vendors who can
comply with the standards and protocols we
are developing. The package will include the
opt-in capabilities to send messages to cell
phones and other devices; the emergency
telephone notification [system]; and warning
services for the deaf and hard of hearing,
and in foreign languages. In the pilot phase,
the governors are asking for Spanish and
Vietnamese as second and third languages.

"We are talking to the states about their needs,
and we plan to use DHS grants to supply a portion of the funding. It is premature to say what that will be."
? Martha Rainville, Federal Emergency Management Agency

FEMA, the [Federal Communications
Commission] and [National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration] are developing
different components. The system will
use the Common Alerting Protocol and the
Emergency Data Exchange Language, [both
Extensible Markup Language formats].

We changed tactics for IPAWS. We refocused
to provide enhanced capability for the
2007 hurricane season. The packaging of
capabilities will be useful to the states.

WT: Will this be open-source or proprietary
technology? Sandia has selected several
subcontractors for the IPAWS pilot,
including MyStateUSA, NuParadigm
Foundation and Warning Systems Inc.


Rainville: We will have standards, and
through Sandia Lab, we will be able to certify
which vendors meet the standards. States
can choose their own vendors.

WT: How much is IPAWS costing this year,
and what is the total budget for IPAWS?
Who will pay the bulk of the
expense to implement it?


Rainville: We have a budget of
$75 million through 2007 under
the Stafford Act. There is $26.5 million
in the fiscal 2008 budget for
development and testing.

We are talking to the states
about their needs, and we plan to
use DHS grants to supply a portion
of the funding. It is premature to say what
that will be. This is optional for the states.

WT: How confident are you that FEMA
and the states will successfully deploy the
IPAWS capabilities?


Rainville: I have a lot of confidence in the
capability and in the commitment that
FEMA has to field and test the capability. It
is the right thing to do and states need this.

Staff Writer Alice Lipowicz can be reached at alipowicz@1105govinfo.com.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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