Integrated Public Alert and Warning System

By Michelle Demmert, Tlingit, Eagle, Kaaxʼoos.hittaan clan, Law and Policy Director, AKNWRC

Tribes Can Use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to Help With MMIW Issues

When a woman or person goes missing in our community, where do we turn? We should go to law enforcement to immediately report the missing person, but some communities lack law enforcement and sometimes, law enforcement may not take a missing person report right away, despite the message being we can report a missing person at any time. What do we do? We know that our chances of finding a person are much better when our communities are alerted to the situation as soon as possible. Tribes can take matters into their own hands and utilize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to create a process to alert your community to the missing person. The IPAWS is an alert system offered by FEMA and is available for free to any Tribe, community, city or state in the country. The Cocopah Indian Tribe was the first Tribe in the nation to use IPAWS and we hope that many of our Alaska Tribes will become IPAWS Tribes, too.

The IPAWS system operates through the internet, cell phone, and radio. IPAWS, once it is set up, allows the community to put out an alert to residents in a defined area, about a missing person or any other Tribal governmental issue of importance including health concerns, resource availability, weather alerts, etc. The alert can be a cell phone call or text, or an announcement on the local TV or radio station. As mentioned, the emergency ‘event’ is determined by the community and can be a missing child, vulnerable adult, elder or anyone under any situation determined by the protocols of the community.

Communities can implement policies to ensure that the missing person is not voluntarily missing but is unexpectedly gone. The only costs are optional infrastructure improvements and the telecom software (the more special features, the higher the cost) such as a computer, software to implement IPAWS and potentially other voluntary options. The FEMA IPAWS team will do a demonstration as they did for us at the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center. Again, FEMA will do all the training and interface with the telecom technicians at no cost and provide ongoing technical assistance.

This low-tech alert and warning system may be one of the tools that Tribal communities utilize to address missing person issues quickly to hope for better outcomes. Law enforcement should still be notified, but IPAWS can provide for an easier way to alert the community right away.