92nd American Meteorological Society Annual Meeting (January 22-26, 2012)

Monday, 23 January 2012
How Do Emergency Managers Use the Hurricane Cone of Uncertainty?
Hall E (New Orleans Convention Center )
Catherine F. Smith, East Carolina Univ., Greenville, NC; and B. E. Montz, J. L. Losego, and K. Galluppi

A cooperative pilot project by the University of North Carolina Institute of the Environment, East Carolina University, and the National Weather Service investigates use of National Weather Service information services and products in weather emergency management. Based on project preliminary findings, this presentation focuses on emergency managers' uses of a National Hurricane Center (NHC) product, the map showing hurricane track and landfall probability in a “cone of uncertainty.”

County emergency manager (EM) and emergency support function (ESF) participants in coastal counties in North Carolina and South Carolina report using the cone operationally as they make decisions for response and make recommendations to agency administrators. Focus group, survey, and interview findings speak to the usefulness and usability of the cone.

EM practices of pushing information indicate the product's usefulness, or meaning in context. By distributing the cone map (as attachment to email briefings, for instance) or by referring to it (in telephone calls, for instance) EMs re-purpose and re-direct a national product for local audiences and purposes. They re-contextualize the cone to achieve co-orientation by multiple local ESFs or to advise a decision-chain of varied agency administrators. These re-contextualizations manifest the internal coordination of organizational risk perception.

EM practices of interpreting the cone indicate the product's usability, or accessibility and comprehensibility. Like individuals studied in other contexts, EMs report paying attention to some but not all textual and graphic features of the cone, and combining that product with other products to construct an understanding. Taking these findings further, this project's analysis correlates EM interpretive practices with demographics such as age, experience, or time on the job to explore social and cultural influences on differences in EM information access and comprehension.

This presentation examines the functional relationship between weather risk characterization and communication in a community of practice, emergency management. A case example, EM use of a hurricane forecast product in response operations, illustrates communication practices by which that community of diverse professionals performs coherently. To generalize from the example, topics are identified for research or prototyping to further explore the processes by which communicated risk information becomes useful professional and organizational knowledge.

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