87th AMS Annual Meeting

Wednesday, 17 January 2007
A large-scale qualitative investigation of emergency managers' strategies for communicating weather information and warnings to the public
Exhibit Hall C (Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center)
H. Dan O'Hair, University of Oklahoma, Norman, OK
Introduction. Local emergency managers (EMs) play a critical role in the communication of weather and climate information to the public. As key stakeholders in the community risk analysis network (O'Hair 2006) EMs are often the only source of weather information for members of the local community; this is especially true for special populations. This study is part of an ongoing research program investigating attitudes, preferences, and message tactics of local emergency managers as they receive, plan, and then deliver weather and climate information and emergency warnings to the public. Based on a socio-ecological perspective of weather/climate information dissemination (Brooks & O'Hair, 2006) and compatible with the “use-inspired basic research” approach recommended by Pielke & Carbone (2002) a research framework was developed to test a community-based weather information model.

Research Questions. In depth interviews were conducted with forty EMs to address the following research questions: (1) What sources of weather/climate information are most important to EMs? (2) What is the level of cooperation and collaboration among other members of the weather information community (NWS, NOAA, media, cross-sector officials, etc.)? (3) What strategies do EMs perform in assessing the public's use of weather/climate information? (4) What channels of communication are preferred by EMs in disseminating weather/climate information to the public and other end-users?

Method. EMs were contacted and appointments set by the researchers in advance of the interviews. Interviews were conducted either at the EMs' offices or at a mutually convenient site. An interview protocol of twenty-five questions (approved by the local IRB) was used as the basis for the moderately scheduled interviews. Most interviews ranged in length of between 45 minutes and two hours. Informed consent was obtained from each EM. Notes were taken by the researcher and later transcribed according to procedures outlined by Poland (2002).

Data collection is ongoing at the time of submission, but preliminary analyses of the data were completed in the following manner. First, two independent coders were trained according to rules proposed by Charmaz (2002) and Glaser and Strauss (1967). Inter-coder reliability will be established at level to exceed 85%. A triangulation of grounded theory and the constant comparative method yielded initial categories of responses that were easily interpreted.

Preliminary Results. EM interviews will be completed by early October 2006 with transcription and coding of the remaining data concluded by late November 2006. Early analysis of the interviews indicates that EMs are frustrated by the lack of coordination among members of the weather information community reflecting arguments made by Mass (2006). EMs also indicate a lack of resources to effectively communicate weather information to the public. While they feel that the products they receive from the weather/climate community are generally effective they would like additional, direct interaction with all members of the risk analysis community to better assess the societal effects of weather and climate. While EMs report limitations through the channels in which they communication weather information to the public (sirens, public meetings, reverse 9-1-1, the media), they seem especially aware of the potential utility of new media (IM, podcasts, cellular messaging, etc.) for communicating weather and climate information.

Summary and Implications. The research project will be completed well before the AMS meeting in January 2007. Results will be interpreted according to recent reports (e.g., NRC, “Completing the Forecast,” 2006) focused on more effective means for communicating uncertainty to end-users such as EMs and their role in communicating with the public. Data will also be interpreted in light of the social-ecological framework (see above) that constitutes the larger research program from which this study is a component.


Brooks, H., & H. D. O'Hair (2006). Communicating uncertainty. Paper delivered at the THORPEX Workshop, Boulder, CO.

Charmaz, K. (2002). Qualitative interviewing and grounded theory analysis. In J. Gubrium & J. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of interview research: Context and method (pp. 675-694). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Glaser, B. G., & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory strategies for qualitative research. Chicago, IL: Aldine Publishing.

Mass, C. (2006). The uncoordinated giant: Why U.S. weather research and prediction are not achieving their potential. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 87, 573-584.

National Research Council. (2006). Completing the forecast: Characterizing and communicating uncertainty for better decision making using weather and climate forecasts. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

O'Hair, H. D. Community-based risk communication infrastructure model. Presentation delivered at the WAS*IS Workshop, Norman, OK.

Pielke, R., & Carbone, R. E. (2002) Weather impacts, forecasts, and policy. Bulletin of the American Meteorology Association, 83, 393-403.

Pollard, B. D. (2002). Transcription quality. In J. Gubrium & J. Holstein (Eds.), Handbook of interview research: Context and method (pp. 629-650). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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