Critical Messages in Seconds
It can take seconds for a child to be abducted, an indigenous person to be taken or murdered, a wildfire to spread, or flooding to devastate a tribal community. Likewise, sending life-saving messages during a crisis should only take a few seconds to reach a critical mass of people. This is not always the case in Indian Country.
In 2016, 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike who was abducted in Shiprock, New Mexico did not benefit from an AMBER Alert because it did not exist on the Navajo Nation. The late issuance of an AMBER Alert had to be routed through New Mexico’s alerting authority only after the FBI interceded. This unfortunate situation of Mike, compounded by remoteness, dirt roads, and infrastructural challenges, led the Navajo Nation to become an Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) alerting authority. Today, the Navajo Nation uses IPAWS to instantly issue AMBER Alerts and Advisories for Missing and Endangered Persons across the vast Navajo Nation that includes the states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
“Only eight Tribes currently utilize IPAWS. This means most of Indian Country is exposed to disasters and emergencies without early warning capabilities in place. We need FEMA’s help to increase the number of Tribes in adopting IPAWS using Tribal radio stations as one of their platforms because it works,” states Loris Taylor, President, and CEO of Native Public Media, who instituted the Emergency Communications Program for Broadcasters in 2018. NPM’s radio network spans over fifteen states across the U.S.
Educating Tribal leaders about the nation’s early warning system took place at the 79th Annual Convention of the National Congress of American Indians in Sacramento, California. NPM Operations Director Melissa Begay joined Harland Cleveland, Navajo Nation Emergency Management Director, and FEMA associates Antwane Johnson and Pamela Holstein-Wallace to encourage Tribal participation in IPAWS. Today, Tribal IPAWS alerting authorities can issue alerts quickly rather than routing messaging through state systems. The federal government recognizes the sovereign rights, authority, and unique status of Tribal Nations.
“It is imperative that Tribal Nations utilize every tool available to them to ensure Tribal communities are informed about potential threats to their safety. IPAWS is a very effective means to reach Tribal communities over radio, television, cable systems, NOAA Weather Radio, digital billboards, and a host of other dissemination systems,” stated Johnson, Director of IPAWS.
“Climate change poses a significant risk to traditional foods, water quality and quantity, and traditional knowledge across Tribal communities. Tribal citizens struggle with the dangers of abduction, murder, or disappearance. It is time to strengthen the security and resiliency of Tribal Nations in protecting their citizens, property, and lands. Every second counts when it means rescuing and recovering missing and endangered citizens or preparing tribal communities for an impending emergency,” concludes Begay.