This morning, the Commonwealth of Virginia sent out a Public Safety Alert around 10 am announcing that all Virginians 16+ are eligible to be vaccinated and how to access an appointment. Virginia is still under a Declaration of Public Health Emergency and as such, has the authority to utilize the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) to send COVID-19 related messages to the public.
In March 2020, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) authorized states and localities to use the national Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) System to relay actionable COVID-19 information to the public. Additionally, in April 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau reminded authorized alert originators (including states and localities) that the WEA system is available as a tool during the coronavirus pandemic. Authorized public safety officials send WEA messages through FEMA’s IPAWS to wireless providers, which then push alerts from cell towers to mobile devices in the targeted area. The alerts appear as text messages on mobile devices.
Permission was granted to Virginia by FEMA to use IPAWS for this COVID vaccine announcement and several other states have already utilized WEAs for vaccine and other COVID-related messaging. Virginia tested and coordinated the transmission of this message with the FEMA IPAWS Lab on April 15. While we have made great strides in public outreach, we recognize there are still people that may not be aware they are eligible or how to get registered. This WEA will ensure anyone with a mobile phone that has emergency alerts turned on will be notified, greatly expanding our reach.