On October 4th, cell phones across the nation – including those in Puerto Rico – squawked in a test of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
IPAWS is a centralized internet-based system that allows emergency notifications to read people easily and efficiently. The test was intended to make sure that the system works and to give people an opportunity to hear and feel the message. With that experience, people will be able to respond appropriately when the alarm is used in non-test situations.
It is significant that Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory of the United States, was included in FEMA’s National Emergency Alert System Test.
In an actual emergency, federal agencies like FEMA can use Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) to send specific warnings. Hurricanes, floods, and similar disasters are an example of occasions when the government needs to be able to alert people to an urgent situation.
Orlando Olivera, Coordinator of FEMA’s Caribbean Area Office in Puerto Rico, said, “This is one step to be ready for emergencies. We are encouraging everyone, especially older adults to ‘Take Control in 1, 2, 3: Assess your needs, Make a plan, and Engage your support network.’ Visit www.ready.gov and learn more about it.”
Including Puerto Rico
It might seem obvious that Puerto Rico needs to have access to the emergency alert system. Why celebrate the Island’s inclusion?
The fact is, Puerto Rico is frequently left out of national programs. A few examples:
- People living in Puerto Rico are not eligible for SSI, even if they received it while living in a state.
- Benefits under nutrition assistance programs are available to fewer people and in smaller amounts in Puerto Rico than in states.
- Data is often not collected in Puerto Rico.
- Puerto Rico has no senators and no voting representatives in the House.
- Puerto Rico has no electors and cannot vote in presidential elections.
With a track record like this, it is not a guarantee that Puerto Rico will be included equally in federal programs and policies. On October 4, however, exclusion was not a problem.