17th Symposium on Education


NC-FIRST: weather information and training for North Carolina emergency managers

Jessica L. Proud, Renaissance Computing Institute, Chapel Hill, NC

Scouring through the vast amounts of available weather data and information that is accessible on the internet, especially during a weather-impacted disaster can be difficult and cumbersome for emergency managers. Furthermore, many emergency managers are not trained on how to correctly interpret this weather data and therefore are not receiving as much information as they could for decision making. In order to help alleviate this problem for North Carolina emergency managers, a program called NC-FIRST was developed by the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI)1. NC-FIRST is modeled after the successful OK-FIRST program developed at the University of Oklahoma, which has been providing up-to-date and pertinent weather data and training to Oklahoma emergency managers and first responders for over a decade. NC-FIRST has two components: a weather information web portal and classroom training on how to interpret this weather information. The NC-FIRST Weather Information Portal is a web site created and hosted by RENCI that collects weather data from various government sources, such as the National Weather Service (NWS) and the National Hurricane Center (NHC), and posts it real-time in an intuitive, easy to navigate web space. The portal requires a password to log in, which allows for data tailored to an emergency manager's home county to be provided upon entering the site (1 in sample screenshot figure below). For example, a regional county map on the front page shows the current NWS warnings, watches, and advisories that have been issued for a user's county as well as the immediate surrounding counties. Local surface observations are mapped as well. This allows the user to be able to obtain a broad overview of what type of weather is currently impacting or may soon impact their county. The NC-FIRST Weather Information Portal is divided by weather disaster type (5 in sample screenshot figure below): tropical weather, thunderstorms and tornadoes, winter weather, flooding, fire and drought weather, and coastal weather. Users can select what tab they are interested in viewing. The default front page is determined by the current season. For example, from December through February the winter weather tab would be the default front page. Within each disaster type, the page is broken down into three main areas: a quadrant display that shows data such as real-time looping radar for the entire state (3 in sample screenshot figure below); a local observations box that shows surface observation data and the option to switch the county being viewed (4 in sample screenshot figure below); and an expandable menu area that provides more detailed information by data type, including satellite data, radar data, graphical products, and text products (2 in sample screenshot figure below). Classroom training, which is the second component of NC-FIRST, takes place at convenient locations around the state and uses technology, such as laptops and the NC-FIRST Weather Information Portal, to enhance learning. Meteorologists from around the state teach these classes to groups of emergency managers ranging in size from five to 25. The classroom training includes a tutorial on how to use the web portal optimally as well as a tutorial on understanding some of the basics of weather and weather information. For example, the basics of radar and the differences between displays such as base and composite reflectivity are explained to participants. Because the program became available to emergency managers on June 1, the first section that users were trained on was tropical weather. Other weather disaster courses will be available by type (e.g. winter weather) over the next nine months. Emergency managers will be encouraged to attend several of these trainings so that they can learn about the basics of weather and weather information for several weather disaster types. The goal of the training is to teach users how to utilize the information on the page so that when they are in a disaster situation they understand how to apply it to their decision making process. Laptops are provided to participants so that they can follow along with the instructor and get a truly hands-on experience of learning how to use the page. By getting the users engaged in the web portal from the beginning there is a greater chance that they will remember what they were taught regarding weather and continue to use the page on their own. Currently, about one-fifth of North Carolina counties have had at least one emergency manager trained. In the upcoming months, a course will be created for all weather disaster types and classes will be held on each as the appropriate season approaches. In the future, this program will be standardized and will become a course for emergency managers through the North Carolina community college system. 1RENCI is a North Carolina state organization that is a joint venture of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and Duke University. RENCI works to use technology in to solve multidisciplinary problems in North Carolina.

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Session 4, Extending our Reach in Atmospheric Science
Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM, 209

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