The Effective Hurricane Messaging Course: Preparing NWS Decision Support Specialists for Hurricane Emergencies

Tuesday, 19 April 2016: 8:45 AM
Miramar 1 & 2 (The Condado Hilton Plaza)
David Sharp, NOAA/NWS, Melbourne, FL; and P. Santos, A. Devanas, M. J. Moreland, D. P. Brown, J. McNatt, J. Koch, and S. White

The impacts upon American lives and livelihoods from landfalling hurricanes and tropical storms are significant. To help counter the ill-effects and to promote public safety, decision support specialists within the National Weather Service (NWS) provide critical decision-making information to core partners and customers. With continued advances in applied science and technology, there is an increasing amount of complex guidance being made available to improve tropical cyclone forecasts, local threat assessments of the associated hazards, and depictions of inherent uncertainties of the evolving situation. Yet delivering complex information can be challenging. A key challenge is translating tailored decision support into relatable terms and conveying messages that are effective and in context.

Recently, the NWS has developed an Effective Hurricane Messaging (EHM) course to elevate the knowledge, skills, and abilities of their decision support specialists. The effort is led by a group of veteran forecasters from coastal field offices, national centers, agency training branches, and regional and national headquarters. The course has been conducted at the National Hurricane Center (NHC) three times thus far – the most recent being in February 2015; it is scheduled to be taught once again in the spring of 2016. The EHM course is a five day course focused the effective messaging of tropical meteorology in easier-to-understand ways. Decision support specialists must have a deep knowledge of the science behind the guidance, products, graphics, and services being delivered. They must also acquire skill and ability to communicate impact-based information clearly and concisely. Subject matter experts with tropical cyclone expertise from throughout the weather enterprise compose and conduct the training curriculum. The EHM course is a healthy mix of short presentations, interactive discussions, and exercises. Students are given a chance to directly engage social scientists, emergency managers, NHC staff, and seasoned forecasters within the tropical community. Course participants are given the chance to share local best practices and collaborate on ideas such as briefing templates, etc. Maturing the course through real-world experiences is essential. Participants are also run through hurricane-focused media scenarios which include “feet to the fire” practice interviews. The course ends with a full-scale simulation based on a mock storm case. The simulation enables participants to practice each aspect of hurricane crisis communication. Afterward, course facilitators perform a “hot wash” at the end of the simulation to extract instant feedback. This paper will present the purpose the EHM course, its overarching goals and objectives, experiences from recent classes, and a vision for continued refinements.

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