FEMA solicits help overhauling warning system

The nation's National Warning System is a bit under the weather.

According to an Aug. 14 notice, the Homeland Security Department is looking for a contractor to maintain, repair and refurbish the existing 24-hour emergency telephone network that links it with governors' offices and emergency officials in all 50 states.

The system is operated by the department's Federal Emergency Management Agency at its Mount Weather Operations Center in Virginia.

FEMA intends to negotiate with Communications Laboratories Inc. of Melbourne, Fla., to replace the equipment, but also wants other qualified contractors to offer descriptions of their services and pricing within 15 days. The agency said it would decide whether to seek competitive bids for the project after those proposals are received.

The warning system was developed in 1950s so that the White House and other federal offices would have immediate voice communications with governors and other nonmilitary officials in case of a nuclear attack.

Since that time it has evolved to provide warnings of terrorism attacks, severe weather, natural disasters and other incidents. It functions as an instant party line that is staffed 24 hours a day and is hardened against storms, outages and breakdowns.

The warning system consists of 61 separate telephone systems, one for each of the 50 states, one for each of the 10 FEMA regions and one overall control circuit, the notice said. Each of the circuits can be operated on a self-contained basis or can be linked to transmit national warning messages. All the locations are connected with the North American Aerospace Defense Command through national warning centers.

The government supplies the network signaling and governs all circuit configurations and warning signals, while local telephone companies provide most of the 1,800 circuit links, the notice said.

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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