the FEMA iPAWS logo

Apple continues to listen to customers, and the latest release of iOS 6 is a solid reminder that the fruit company is committed to government and first responders. Actually, this goes way beyond first responders, and the now included “Government Alerts capability may be used for all types of alerts via FEMA’s Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). The term “Government Alerts” becomes  a name for the system which allows local, state, and federal officials to “broadcast” alerts through cell towers to devices in the area equipped to receive CMAS/WEA/Government Alerts.  Alerts are sent to targeted geographic areas.  Residents don’t have to sign up.  And, it’s free.

Alerts will be received when “imminent threats,” AMBER Alerts, and emergency messages from the senior government offices are issued.  Per the law that established the CMAS program, mobile users can opt out of “imminent threats” and AMBER Alerts, but not out of emergency messages from the POTUS. The “Notification Center” in iOS6 makes it clear that users can turn off AMBER Alerts and Emergency Alerts, but does not indicate that Presidential alerts cannot be turned off.

Apple’s Government Alerts capability is not available to everyone using iOS6.  Macworld says it found Government Alerts settings in the San Francisco area for Sprint and Verizon, but not AT&T.  And, Macworld says an informal poll via Twitter showed that some Verizon users in some parts of the country have access to the Government Alerts setting in iOS6 while others do not. Many carriers are still building out their capabilities, but the key point is that the software is ready to go, so as with 4G LTE, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

Meantime, local and state public safety officials continue to apply to FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) for authority to use the CMAS/WEA/Government Alerts systems for imminent threats and AMBER Alerts in their areas.  More than 60 state and local agencies have been cleared for CMAS/WEA alerting authority by FEMA; another 80+ have applications pending. It’s not an automatic thing, as local agencies will also need approval from their state.

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