818 National Weather Service Phoenix, AZ Decision Support for Non-Meteorological Incidents

Thursday, 10 January 2013
Exhibit Hall 3 (Austin Convention Center)
Gary R. Woodall, NOAA/NWS, Phoenix, AZ; and V. L. Meyers

Handout (1.1 MB)

Over the years, the National Weather Service (NWS) has had a strong relationship with land and fire management agencies. The Incident Meteorologist (IMET) program was one of the first examples of “decision support” provided by the NWS to its partner agencies. The ability to provide locally-based expertise to key decision makers at the fire site has proven beneficial time and again to fire operations, and more importantly, to fire crew safety.

From the mid 1990s through the 2000s, NWS offices expanded the concept of decision support beyond the IMET and wildland fire arena. Decision support services (DSS), including the provision of briefings and interpretation beyond the standard forecast product suite, have now become common and are delivered by many NWS offices. Additionally, some offices have expanded their DSS, on at least an ad-hoc basis, to “non-meteorological” incidents. Research has shown that many non-meteorological incidents have a weather component to their management and response. Examples of non-meteorological incidents include hazardous materials releases, urban industrial fires, search and rescue operations, and large public gatherings at high-profile sporting or political events.

In this vein, the Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Phoenix, AZ had several opportunities to provide DSS for non-meteorological incidents in late 2011. The events included a tanker truck explosion on Interstate 10, a major electrical transformer fire, a radiological disaster exercise, and an aircraft crash in nearby mountains. The WFO staff had previously received training in many of the relevant DSS tools, such as HYSPLIT, CAMEO/ALOHA, spot forecast procedures, and the Incident Command System. DSS provided by the WFO typically featured briefings regarding wind and temperature trends along with high resolution spot forecasts and HYSPLIT plume dispersion output. As the WFO provided support for these events, a pattern of DSS needs and services evolved.

WFO Phoenix staff analyzed the patterns of service and developed scenarios for events of greater and lesser magnitude, impact, and duration. WFO staff imported the results of the analysis into a scalable DSS plan for non-meteorological incidents in the WFO's area of responsibility. A key aspect of the plan is an operations and decision flowchart which provides quick guidelines for on-duty staff. The plan and flowchart outline avenues of support depending on the nature and magnitude of the event. This reference material will help ensure that future non-meteorological incidents are addressed at an appropriate level and with the necessary speed and efficiency.

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