The Risks of Seasonal Climate Information in Emergency Management

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 12:00 AM
226C (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Kris Wernstedt, Virginia Tech, Alexandria, VA; and P. Roberts, J. L. Arvai, and K. T. Redmond

Most localities endure occasional extreme weather events such as floods or droughts, but some areas also may experience intermediate- to long-term term variations in weather patterns where precipitation, temperature, or storms may deviate from climate normals. The variations may entail exceptionally busy hurricane seasons, month- or season-long heat waves, long-term droughts, El Niņo or La Niņa events, and other extreme seasonal weather.

Anticipation of such anomalies holds promise for improving flood, drought, and hurricane planning and management, and some localities have effectively used seasonal climate forecasts to improve emergency management of disasters. However, the application of climate information in emergency management poses difficulties. In addition to limited technical and institutional capacities, the uncertainty inherent to forecasts bedevils decision making.

With NOAA and NSF support, we are examining the obstacles to and opportunities for the use of climate forecasts in flood and drought planning and management in the U.S. We seek to improve understanding of the 1) characteristics that make scientific and technical information on the seasonal risk of flood and drought events more useable by emergency managers and other decision-makers; 2) strengths and weaknesses of policy and practice networks for utilizing seasonal forecast information; and 3) influence of group decision processes on the formation and consideration of objectives and tradeoffs in decision making about employing seasonal climate forecasts in weather-related emergency management. Our approach relies on a mix of case studies, in-person decision experiments and a national-level survey of stakeholders engaged in flood and drought planning and emergency management.

In this presentation, we focus on our survey results. These document the prevalence of climate forecast use in emergency management, the degree to which emergency managers are embedded in decision networks, and the utility of various forecast products and tradeoffs among different dimensions of these products. We also discuss findings related to emergency management decision making under uncertainty, focusing on the results from our examination of forecast lead times, different heuristic treatments, errors of omission and commission, and loss and gain outcomes.