Inside IPAWS: Austin residents alerted via emergency system about nearby bombing


AUSTIN, Texas – People living miles away from the fourth package explosion in Austin Sunday were surprised when they received alerts telling them not to leave their homes. 

Austin police used IPAWS or the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System to send emergency notifications targeted at residents of the Travis Country neighborhood.

"It basically allows us to use the cell phone towers to send out a message,” Angel Flores, of the Office of Emergency Management explained. “So we draw a geographical shape and send out a message in that shape."

Those shapes are not exact. They will likely extend past a map of Travis Country depending on the location of nearby cell phone towers.

“So when we're trying to reach mobile users we send out the message through the IPAWS system,” Flores said. “The IPAWS System sends it through the mobile phone carriers and then they determine how it's sent out via the cell phone towers."

The emergency alerts did confuse and worry some, but others think it's better to include too many people in the notifications than not enough.

Allison Hall, who lives in Abilene Trail, 4.1 miles away from the Travis Country subdivision where the bombing occurred, said, “I got an alert on my phone. Just an emergency alert saying stay at home."

Hall said she didn't know what was going on or what she should do.

"How did they know who to alert? How did they get our information and how it came so quickly,” she said. “We were kind of surprised by that."

Since the IPAWS system targets geographic regions, it sends alerts to anyone in the area it targets, which means people who are just passing through also get the messages.