EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – May 7, 2003

Public Warning in the 21st Century
The Partnership for Public Warning's (PPW) National Strategy and Conference

Kenneth B. Allen
Executive Director
Partnership for Public Warning

Amy Sebring
Moderator, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available upon request to [email protected]

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum!

Our topic today is "Public Warning in the 21st Century," which is from the theme of the upcoming, first annual convention and meeting sponsored by the non-profit Partnership for Public Warning (PPW). A key topic at the convention will be the document developed by the PPW this past year, entitled "A National Strategy for Integrated Public Warning Policy and Capability," which we will be discussing today as well.

I am pleased to introduce our speaker, Kenneth B. Allen, Executive Director of the PPW. He has extensive experience as president and chief executive officer, government relations expert and lobbyist, newspaper publisher, senior government official and management consultant. Some highlights of his experience include 10 years with the Information Industry Association (IIA), a Washington, DC-based trade association representing over five hundred of the world's leading publishing, technology, and telecommunications companies. He also served under Presidents Bush, Carter and Reagan as a senior policy analyst with the US Office of Management and Budget (OMB) where he was responsible for overseeing the acquisition and management of government information technology.

Welcome Ken, we are very pleased to have you with us today, and I now turn the floor over to you.


Ken Allen: It's a pleasure to be with you today. As you can see from my biography, I have been involved with information and technology industries for many years. Ironically, however, this is my first time with an online chat. So please bear with me as I try to grapple with the nuances of a conversation that has no sound.

Although I have been in Washington for most of my career, I am also new to the issues of public alerting and warning. Like most citizens, I have long assumed that the government would warn me and my family in the event of an emergency. Since joining PPW last December, I have come to appreciate the fallacy of that thinking. While I know more about the issues than I did five months ago, I am still learning. So please do not consider me an expert on the issue of public warning.

What I would like to do is to give you some of the background of public warning, explain how the Partnership came to be, describe where we are today and where we are going. Over the course of the next hour, I hope to persuade you why this is an important issue and one that needs to be addressed. So let's begin.

A loud tone comes from the television or radio, followed by the announcer saying, "this is a test of the emergency broadcast system. Had this been a real emergency you would be instructed to turn your dial to ------." This is a familiar scenario to most Americans in that it has occurred many times over the past thirty years. Once the test is concluded, most of us go back to what we were doing, secure in the knowledge that the government will warn us in the event of an emergency.

We wouldn't be so complacent if we knew the truth - that current warning systems only reach some of the people some of the time. If an emergency is slow in developing (such as a severe storm or hurricane) the chances are that most of the people to be affected will eventually get some sort of warning.

If the emergency develops more rapidly, such as a tornado or terrorist attack, it is far less likely that most of the people at risk will be warned. The number of people who receive a particular warning will be even less if the emergency happens at night when we are asleep or affects those who do not speak English.

Over the past thirty years we have seen the number and types of risks and emergencies grow. In addition to weather and natural disasters, today we are at risk from chemical spills, nuclear accidents, terrorist attacks and other events that were previously unknown. At the same time, our population has grown, diversified and become increasingly mobile. We speak many different languages and are rarely at the same location for more than a few hours.

Moreover, the ways in which we get information have changed. The backyard fence, telephone, radio and television have been supplemented with cellular phones, PDAs and the Internet. Much has changed over the past thirty years. Unfortunately, one thing that has not is the method by which we warn citizens of emergencies. We are continuing to use yesterday's solutions for 21st century problems.

Although this problem has long been know to those involved in warning and protecting citizens, it is only recently that it has come to the forefront of the national agenda. It was not until three years ago that federal decision-makers began to pay attention to this issue. In November 2000 the Office of Science and Technology Policy released a report entitled "Effective Disaster Warnings." Prepared by a working group composed of scientists and managers from a number of federal agencies, the goal of this report was to provide a broad overview of the major issues associated with warning the right people at the right time so that they can take appropriate action.

The working group that prepared the OSTP report (often called the "red book") reviewed the existing range of public and private capabilities for issuing alerts and disseminating warnings. These systems ranged from the Emergency Alert System and Weather Radio to local and private sector warning systems. Based on this review, the working group reached several important conclusions. These were:

* Natural disasters cost the United States as much as $1 billion per week in the loss of lives and property.

* Existing warning systems fail to reach many people at risk, but do reach many people not at risk.

The problem was not one of technology. The technologies exist to provide more effective warnings. The problem is a lack of standards - standard terminology, standard protocols, etc.

The working group also made several recommendations. These recommendations were:

1. A standard method should be developed to collect all types of hazard warnings and related information - locally, regionally and nationally -- and to distribute such information into a wide variety of dissemination systems.

2. Warnings should be delivered through as many communication channels as possible in order to reach people at risk wherever they are located.

3. A public/private partnership is needed that can leverage government and industry needs, capabilities and resources in order to deliver effective disaster warnings.

The report was released in November 2000, but little notice was paid outside of the community already interested in public warning issues. A change in administrations also discouraged any action on the part of the federal government.

Over the summer of 2001 a number of executives from the public and private sector decided to pursue the issue of public warning and the possible creation of a public/private organization to address this important issue. A meeting of interested parties was scheduled for November 30, 2001 in McLean, Virginia. Between the time the meeting was scheduled and the actual meeting something happened that changed the nation - the United States was attacked by terrorists on September 11.

In response to this new threat, over 120 experts from the government and private sector met in McLean, Virginia to discuss how to improve the nation's public warning capabilities. This group explored various ways to improve the nation's public warning capability. However, it was quickly recognized that public warning involves a wide range of stakeholders.

At its most basic level public warning is a local responsibility - it is local community managers who issue most of the public warnings in the nation. At the same time, there are regional, state and national emergencies that require action by other governmental bodies. Finally, most of the warning systems in existence today, including EAS and Weather Radio, ultimately rely on technologies and systems provided and managed by the private sector. The only way to develop an effective national public warning capability is to provide a forum in which all the parties can work together as equal partners.

It was the unanimous conclusion of the working group that a public/private partnership should be established where all the stakeholders could work together on standards, protocols and related issues. In January 2002 the Partnership for Public Warning was incorporated as a 501c(3) institute headquartered in Washington, DC. Membership in the partnership is open to any organization or individual who is interested in public warning and supports the goals of the Partnership.

Our vision of the Partnership is to get the right information to the right people at the right time so that can take the necessary actions to protect lives and property. An interim Board of Trustees was established to guide the Partnership during its first year.

Since its establishment the Partnership has worked aggressively and successfully to put public warning on the national agenda. For the first time ever, senior officials in the executive and legislative branches are beginning to recognize that much can be done to improve the nation's public warning capability.

In addition, PPW has developed a unique and valuable forum at which all stakeholders - private or public, local, state or federal - are welcome to participate as full partners. The next step is to begin taking action to improve the nation's public warning capabilities.

Over the past few months the Partnership has developed a "National Strategy for Integrated Public Warning Policy and Capability." In February this draft strategy was circulated widely for public comment. The national strategy is being released as part of PPW's first annual conference and trade show to be held in McLean, Virginia on May 15 -17, 2003. The theme of the conference is "From Sensors to Citizens: Public Warning in the 21st Century." This is the only national conference focused solely on the issue of public alert and warning. Moreover, the conference is meant to be both educational and action-oriented.

Participants will be invited to participate in workshops to craft the PPW's agenda over the coming months. Some of the conference highlights include the following:

* An outstanding program where attendees will hear from leading experts on public warning from around the country, including local and state officials, federal officials and private industry.

* Keynoters include Michael Brown, Undersecretary of DHS for Emergency Preparedness and Response and Conrad Lautenbacher, Undersecretary of Commerce for NOAA.

* An exhibit hall with displays by the leading providers of warning technologies, services and systems from around the nation. This will be an excellent opportunity to see the state of the art in alert and warning technologies and systems. Almost twenty organizations have already signed up to display their products and services. In addition to the program and exhibit hall, several workshops are planned to address key issues.

Workshops are open to all interested parties - you do not have to be registered for the conference to attend a workshop. Just let us know you are coming by sending an email to [email protected] The workshops are as follows:

Thursday, May 15, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, Emergency Alert System Workshop

The PPW Emergency Alert System (EAS) workshop is an opportunity to discuss aspects of EAS, past, present and future. It can provide a forum for State and local EAS Chairs and other officials associated with EAS to discuss EAS in their State, locality, etc. EAS has assumed renewed importance with the recent emergence of Amber alerts and terrorism. All are invited including, EAS State and Local Chairs, State and local emergency officials, police and fire personnel, etc.

A draft list of topics includes:

1. Exchange of ideas by State and local Chairs about their EAS operations.

2. State and local progress on upgrades to EAS equipment and procedures based on FCC Report and Order.

3. Other operations at the State and local level.

4. EAS equipment use by state and local officials.

5. EAS interface with NOAA Weather Radio.

6. Amber impact on EAS.

Also, PPW in concert with the EAS community is developing an EAS Assessment document. Draft copies will be available for discussion and comment.

Thursday, May 15, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, Common Alerting Protocol Workshop

The Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is a standard digital format for all kinds of alerts and warnings being developed by a Technical Committee representing emergency management software vendors, government agencies and the Partnership for Public Warning. An essential component of this standard will be choices of nomenclature for hazard types, severity, probability and other parameters. This workshop will review the work done to date and then discuss and gather inputs on specific elements of the CAP format.

I should insert here that Art Botterell is chairing the workshop. Art is an expert on CAP and represents PPW to OASIS and is with us today. If you have questions about CAP or related issues, I may ask Art to address them.

Another workshop is planned for Saturday, May 17, 9:00 AM - 11:30 AM, Crafting the Agenda

This workshop will provide an opportunity for all PPW members and other interested persons to participate in shaping the ongoing PPW agenda based on the national strategy to be released at the conference. There will be brief presentations on key issues such as standard protocols and standard terminology. The primary purpose will be to identify and recommend key initiatives and action plans.

In addition to the release of the national strategy, other conference events include:

* The first official PPW Board of Trustees will be elected at the annual business meeting to be held at 4:00 PM on Thursday, May 15.

* There will be excellent networking opportunities at the Thursday reception in the exhibit hall and the Trustees reception on Friday night.

* The newly elected PPW board of Trustees will hold its first board meeting on Saturday, May 17. All PPW members are invited to attend.

If you are at all interested in public alert and warning issues, you should be at the conference. The early bird rate of $275 for members and government employees, and $375 for non-members, has been extended until Friday, May 9.

For further information on the conference, check the PPW web site at http://www.PartnershipforPublicWarning.org. The upcoming conference is an important step in moving towards a more effective public warning capability in the United States. Yet there are still many challenges ahead. If you are interested in public warning issues, we invite you to get involved with us. Become a partner with the Partnership.

Thank you for this opportunity. And now I will turn the screen back to Amy so we can begin the discussion.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Neeraj Mainkar: As a physicist my interest is in the new technology that is being used for Alert and Warning? Will this be discussed at the workshop?

Ken Allen: I have a two-part answer. First, the workshop on Saturday will discuss those issues if someone brings them up. This is meant to be an interactive workshop in which the participants shape the agenda. I urge you to come and raise the issue. Second, we are having an exhibit hall with some of the state-of-art technologies and systems. But these are things already on the drawing board. I don't believe there will be any demos of wrist watches that receive warnings or brain implants to provide 24/7 input.


Ed Pearce: I am a disaster recovery planner for a bank with facilities in five states. Are there plans for tools that would alert me to disasters in multiple, specified locations?

Ken Allen: Good question, Ed. There are a number of services on the board now that can provide this capability on a selected basis. However, one of the major problems is the lack of interoperability among systems. A second problem is the lack of common terminology. As a result, the technology exists, but we don't have the stream of validated and authorized information to feed those technologies. PPW is planning to address the protocol, terminology and related standards issues. We are also exploring the feasibility of creating a single stream of warning information. A key part of the agenda for PPW and the conference is to develop the action steps -- and plans -- to do what you propose. Even if you can't come to the conference, I urge you to get us involved and help us set priorities and develop plans.


Amy Hughes: This is Amy Hughes from the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA. What sort of feedback did you receive in regards to the national strategy draft?

Ken Allen: Amy, I am pleased to report that we received excellent feedback. We actually went through a two step review process. In early January we distributed the report to a select group of people in the warning community both in industry and government. Their comments were incorporated and then in February we released the report for general comment. I don't know exactly how many comments we got, but the general tenor was extremely positive. If there were any criticisms, it was that there were issues we didn't address. We recognized that, but it just couldn't be helped.


William Cumming: Will technical papers be presented at the Conference? If so, sample subjects?

Ken Allen: William, we are not having technical papers presented. We have three panels. The first is on the current state of public warning, with representatives from Commerce, DC and Florida. The second is on the current challenges and needs for better warning. The third panel is on next steps. This panel will be reacting to the national strategy that will be released that day and setting the stage for the next evolution in PPW's agenda.


William Cumming: Would it be possible to have a bibliography handed out by PPW at the conference of warning research?

Ken Allen: William, good question. Let me check into it. In the meantime, I urge you to go to the PPW Web site at www.PartnershipforPublicWarning.org as there is a great deal of information there.


Monique Dattilo: If you go to a single stream of warning, how do you protect this against terrorist attacks, and even in this forum, how do you protect the information?

Ken Allen: Monique, I don't have an answer for you today as we have the concept but not the details. Protecting any system from terrorist and other attacks is critical just as it is critical to make sure that people can get information when the power grid is down. We plan to address those issues and, again, I urge you to get involved.


Neeraj Mainkar: Ken, isn’t it true that "good old-fashioned" siren-sound alert systems are still the most widely used form of alert and warning technology?

Ken Allen: Neeraj, in many parts of the world that is true. Many communities have moved away from sirens although I have gotten a number of calls from city managers recently who are again looking into sirens. Remember, sirens merely tell people there is a problem, it doesn't tell them what the problem is or what to do. On a related note, FEMA is now rewriting the siren guidelines.


Chris Waters: We are currently using several systems to notify the public. We use the standard TV and radio format but are using computer pop-ups for specific organizations as well as reverse 911 for the public. Are there any additional options that you are aware of?

Ken Allen: There are a number of organizations that offer Reverse 911 services. There are also some companies offered FM transmissions for cellular phones. Thomson is coming out with a TV that picks up weather radio signals. A number of the leading companies are listed on PPW's web site (and will be on display at our conference). Just trying to get another plug in for the conference, folks.


Amy Sebring: Ken, I am interested in your legislative efforts. I noticed that Senator Edwards introduced some legislation this year on this issue. What was PPW's role, and what is current status if you know?

Ken Allen: Good question, Amy. First of all, PPW is not a lobbying organization. We can educate congress but we do not lobby. Edwards introduced a bill on public warning and the next day announced that he was running for President. As a result, few republicans were willing to support his bill. In the recent supplemental appropriation, Edwards and Senator Stevens inserted $10 million to Commerce for Weather Radio. Unfortunately, it was taken out in the conference committee.

We plan to take the National Strategy and send it to Tom Ridge, the Secretary of Commerce, the President, and all 535 members of Congress. We hope that this will open the eyes of some of these decision-makers and generate some interest in public warning.


Neeraj Mainkar: Would you agree that each type of emergency such as a reactor disaster, a chemical spill or a terrorist attack would warrant the need of a different kind of warning method and corresponding technology and so it would be very hard to find a common protocol?

Ken Allen: Neeraj, an excellent question. I would like to ask Art Botterell to respond to that.

Art Botterell: Let me try. First off, it's important to remember that a warning, to be effective, needs to be delivered over more than one technology or channel. And only a few hazards, nuclear power plants, for example, represent enough concentration of capital to permit the creation of single-purpose alerting systems. So the problem becomes, "how can we coordinate the functions of multiple, diverse alert delivery systems?" It does appear that there are some "generic" components of an effective warning message and that these can be put together in a format that appears to serve as either an input or an output to multiple technologies. But that's an ongoing project and I'm sure we've got lots to learn yet!

Ken Allen: Art, thanks. If anyone else is interested in this topic, I urge you to contact Art -- he is the expert.


William Cumming: There is extensive research usually by sociologists distinguishing between prediction, warning, alerting, and protective action recommendation dissemination. Does PPW make such distinctions?

Ken Allen: Yes, we are using much of the basic research and trying to apply it to the real world. You may wish to look at some of the PPW products, all of which are on our web site. They include the various types and stages of alert and warning.

Not being an expert, myself, if you want to go further at this time on this, I'll have to refer to the reports myself. Reports include the draft national strategy, comments on the DHS advisory system and an early report on warning issues.

At the University of Colorado, Dennis Mileti runs a center that studies the sociological issues associated with warnings and emergency management. All of our reports can be downloaded for free from the PPW web site at www.PartnershipforPublicWarning.org.


Neeraj Mainkar: Do you think more resources (read money) would be spent by DHS to conduct sound coverage studies with existing or proposed additions of siren towers at various high risk locations and cities?

Ken Allen: Neeraj, the answer revolves around would and should. One of the problems is that DHS is currently a black hole. They are having major challenges in creating the new department and there is a lot of bureaucratic infighting going on. It's not clear who is in charge and who has the money. We have spoken with them about warning issues and while they seem interested, it is not yet high on their priority list. So, the bottom line is that I'm not aware of any research being planned such as you suggest.


Amy Sebring: A follow up comment and a question, Ken. Regarding your legislative efforts, the Senate Natural Hazards Caucus may be able to give you some assistance. My question has to do with another piece of legislation, the Inland Flood Warning System, where it seems the NWS was being directed to develop a color-coded system similar to the DHS system. Is this the way of the future, do you think, i.e. standard color-coding?

Ken Allen: Amy, let me try to answer that. First, we have been in touch with the Caucus and did brief them last year. Second, while I am not familiar with the particular system you mention (I am new at PPW), there are a couple of problems with color-coding.

First, as we have seen with DHS, does anyone really know what it means or what to do? Buy that duct tape. Second, a color-coding scheme is only an advisory and there is no capability to disseminate the information. Remember, the DHS system is communicated to the public via CNN and MSNBC and the newspapers. No provisions have been made to use EAS or Weather Radio, or any other system, to communicate with citizens. Finally, whatever system is created – color-coded or not -- we need to have a uniform system of warning citizens. There are currently over 15 agencies that have warning responsibility, from nuclear plants to asteroids. Each agency has its own measures, its own terminology and its own way of communicating the information. It's no wonder that Americans are confused.


Avagene Moore: Ken, it seems technology exists and is not the problem re: warning. In your opinion, which is the greater problem and why? (1) Interoperability issues; (2) Standard terminology; or (3) a meeting of the minds as to "how to do this" in the public and private sectors at all levels?

Ken Allen: Ava, the problem is that warning is everyone's problem and no one's problem. Warning is ultimately a local responsibility, but it has to be coordinated regionally and nationally. Unfortunately, the federal government has refused to take a leadership role in coordinating and developing a better warning capability. PPW has been urging DHS and Commerce to step up to the leadership challenge. That is also part of the reason PPW was created, to bring all the stakeholders together. Without some leadership, this issue will not be addressed effectively.


Tom May: What plans are being laid for an interface with a multitude of public health authorities and CDC as to infectious diseases?

Ken Allen: Tom, I don't have an answer for that one. As far as I can tell, there has been little communication among the various warning communities, even within the federal government.


Neeraj Mainkar: Do you see any clear technology emerging amidst the clamor of all the competing products and how do you evaluate the chances of IT based solutions in warning technology?

Ken Allen: I don't believe there is or should be any single technology. People get information through a diversity of channels and we need to supply all those channels. IT solutions are an important element but not the only element.


Avagene Moore: How do average citizens and those with a vested interest in public safety interact with and input to the PPW to help resolve the problems of public warning?

Ken Allen: PPW membership is open to anyone and dues are very low, $50 for an individual membership. All I can suggest is to get involved either in PPW or through your local community. Almost every community has some individual with the responsibility for warning, although this is probably one of many hats. Contact this person and find out what your community is doing about warning.


Amy Sebring: That's all we have time for today. Thank you very much, Ken, and we wish you every success in your efforts and with your conference. Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements.

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Thanks to everyone for participating today. Our session is adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Ken for a fine job.