Cocopah Indian Tribe First to Become IPAWS COG

Cocopah Indian Tribe First to Become IPAWS COG

On Feb. 17, the Cocopah Indian Tribe, represented by Emergency Manager Michael Fila (center), signed a memorandum of agreement making them the first tribe in the nation to become an IPAWS Collaborative Operating Group (COG). Will Schulz (left), Deputy Director of DEMA Division of Emergency Management, and Chief IPAWS Engineer Mark Lucero (right) were present for the signing.

FLAGSTAFF--Emergencies and disasters are mostly unpredictable; so, when they do happen, time is of the essence. Timely, coordinated and actionable communication between governments and their publics can reduce the impact of disasters on people and property.

Federal, state, local and tribal governments have a new technology at their disposal called the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS). On Feb. 17, the Cocopah Indian Tribe—alongside representatives of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA) and FEMA—signed a memorandum of agreement making them the first tribe in Arizona and the nation to become an IPAWS Collaborative Operating Group (COG).

“By being the first tribe in the state to become a COG, the Cocopah Indian Tribe has distinguished itself as a leader in the Whole Community,” said DEMA Deputy Director Wendy Smith-Reeve. “The Tribe has shown a desire and taken deliberate action to become a better informed and prepared community. We celebrate and commend their efforts.”

A COG is an agency authorized by FEMA to create emergency alerts and warnings through IPAWS. Any federal, state, local and tribal emergency management organization responsible for issuing emergency alerts to the public can sign up to use IPAWS. The State of Arizona (i.e., DEMA) and the 15 counties are also either COGS or in the process of becoming alerting authorities.

In 2011, the State of Arizona was the first state in the nation to become a COG.

Submission of the memorandum of agreement doesn’t get an organization immediate and total access to IPAWS. Typically, an organization has to wait for FEMA to issue a COG ID and digital certificate, and then request public alerting permissions from the state; it’s a process that can take weeks.

But because representatives of FEMA and DEMA were there to celebrate Cocopah Indian Tribe becoming a COG, things got fast tracked. DEMA approved the Tribe’s application for public alerting permissions on the spot.

Anyone designated by Cocopah Indian Tribe to use IPAWS must complete prerequisite training before getting access to the IPAWS site. The Emergency Management Institute designed the online course to describe IPAWs operations and coach users on how to write effective (and efficient) alert and warning messages.

Once trained, members of the Cocopah Indian Tribe COG will have the necessary alerting permissions to create and disseminate a local emergency alert to a target audience via the Emergency Alert System (EAS), the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, the National Weather Service All-Hazards Radio and the IPAWS All-Hazards Information Feed.

FEMA designed IPAWS to improve national alerting capabilities and empower federal, state, local and tribal governments to issue their own alerts and warnings. Cocopah Indian Tribe Emergency Manager Michael Fila sees IPAWS as an opportunity to increase their community’s sustained ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies.

Alerts sent by a COG to the IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks (IPAWS-OPEN for short) are authenticated then validated before being simultaneously transmitted to television and radio, including NOAA Weather Radio, cell phones, the Internet and email. IPAWS is also compatible with local emergency notification systems.

FEMA describes IPAWS as a “modernization” of the emergency alerts and warning infrastructure. Whereas previous systems allowed for only text and audio messages; IPAW-OPEN supports photographs and video and, according to FEMA, the “seamless incorporate of emerging technologies.”

Fila remembers a time before IPAWS when warning residents about possible flash flooding included going door to door. While face-to-face conversation remains a reliable and effective method of delivering a message, Fila likes that IPAWS lets the Tribe simultaneously broadcast an alert to TV, radio and mobile phones.

“We live in a time when people rely on websites and social media for breaking news,” explained DEMA Chief Information Officer Owen Zorge.  “IPAWS works with traditional EAS and wireless technologies like television, radio, cellular networks and Internet applications. IPAWS’ ability to integrate new and emerging media makes it an invaluable public information tool.”

Cocopah Indian Tribe of Arizona, according to Tribe’s website, consists of three noncontiguous reservations. The North, West and East reservations total 6,500 acres, most of which is leased to non-Indian farmers for agricultural use.

For more information about the Cocopah Indian Tribe, visit