NWS WFO Sterling Weather Ready Nation Pilot Project: Impact-based Decision Support Services (IDSS)

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014
Hall C3 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Kyle Struckmann, NOAA/NWS, Sterling, VA; and S. Goldstein, K. R. Widelski, and C. Strong

In January 2012, the National Weather Service (NWS) Baltimore/Washington Weather Forecast Office (WFO-Sterling) began a Pilot Project as part of the NWS “Weather Ready Nation Initiative”. The goal of the WFO-Sterling project is to provide Impact-Based Decision Support Services (IDSS) in an Urban Environment. These IDSS services are being developed to provide more tailored and relevant forecast services for emergency managers (EMs) throughout the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. The goal is to provide key information so decision-makers will be better prepared to respond to the many different types of hazardous weather that affect the Nation's Capital and surrounding areas.

This presentation will illustrate how WFO Sterling works on a spectrum of activities to enhance IDSS. One activity is developing and strengthening partnerships with emergency managers in the WFO-Sterling region to be our pathway to reach all divisions of government. These relationships allow formation and participation in tabletop exercises, which facilitate collaboration in real event operations. Since coming on-board early in 2012, the WFO-Sterling teams of Emergency Response Specialist ERS Meteorologists have been engaged in an intensive outreach campaign, visiting 56 counties and cities; collaborating ideas for service improvements with emergency managers throughout the region. Through these meetings and partnerships, feedback received from EM's is being used in the development of an impacts catalog. This catalog helps hone in on how different hazardous weather threats affect communities and the range of decisions emergency managers make in the face of these threats. These visits will help us transform from product-based services to impact-based services.

The second activity is providing impact-based decision support services for major events within our forecast area – on-site when needed, and remotely from the WFO for more routine events. Our pyramid of support allows for flexibility in services provided based on the threat. It extends from daily heads-up emails once a significant threat has been established, to on-site IDSS for region-wide catastrophic events or planned major events, such as the 2013 Presidential Inauguration. On-site support requires constant collaboration with affected WFOs to maintain a uniform message throughout the community of NWS briefers and liaisons. Off-site support is a combination of concise briefing packages & graphics, briefing videos, WebEx audio-visual briefings, and automated text alerting services provided to EM's and event first responders through the I-NWS program. Through IDSS, NWS forecast information is being included in incident action plans. GIS data flowing into state EM centers (e.g. MEMA) allows for NWS data to be more fully incorporated into decision-making.

Third, is communicating the range of possibilities and the amount of uncertainty in the forecast. Through collaboration with NWS Meteorological Development Laboratory and NCEP Weather Prediction Center, we are supplementing our routine slate of products and services with a set of probabilistic information to assist with decision-making. This extends from Maximum, Minimum and Most-Likely storm impacts in the form of text and graphics, to probabilistic maps showing the chances of various thresholds of snow accumulation, to tables showing probabilities for individual sites. These products allow for decision-makers to not only see what are the most likely set of impacts, but what the best and worst case scenarios are for solid planning. They also convey the amount of uncertainty in those various forecasts. With this more robust set of products and services, it allows decision-makers to not be surprised by worse (or better) than expected events of which the forecasters likely are aware. During extreme events, we have developed procedures and suggested wording that can help elevate a warning in the public consciousness, and convey a catastrophic threat.

Lastly, we are developing a Weather-Ready program that will take the admirable goals of the NWS StormReady program, and apply them to any sized entity. From any business or family to large venue or community, we are developing a structure that can be followed to ensure solid planning, warning reception, education and monitoring that will make them ready for any weather event. This will result in a more resilient community from all of nature's weather threats.