Integrated Warning Team: An NWS Binghamton Perspective

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Wednesday, 7 January 2015: 8:45 AM
226AB (Phoenix Convention Center - West and North Buildings)
Erik M. Heden, NOAA, Johnson City, NY; and G. M. Eosco and J. Henderson

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Binghamton, NY maintains a close relationship with its partners through local workshops and conferences. Most workshops are partner specific, such as the state emergency manager conference held in June 2012 with the Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Binghamton. The following year in April of 2013, another partner specific workshop was held, a media workshop for local broadcasters of the 5 designated market areas (DMAs) that Binghamton covers. In periods of more active weather, these partnerships are further strengthened through weather briefings and webinars. Although these specialized and partner specific events are productive, these types of events do not embrace the interconnectedness between our partners. To fully embrace the idea of a Weather Ready Nation (WRN) and involve all of the partners at the same time, the Weather Forecast Office (WFO) Binghamton worked with two social scientists, Dr. Gina Eosco from Cornell University and Jen Henderson from Virginia Tech to hold their first Integrated Warning Team (IWT) workshop in the spring of 2014.

Building off of other IWT models, the workshop opened with an overview of what an IWT is, which was a fairly new concept to the workshop participants. To ensure everyone was on the same page, each represented sector presented an overview of their job responsibilities and how they integrate with the other sectors. There were talks given by the NWS, emergency managers, and the broadcast media community. The rest of the workshop included breakout groups with the morning group focusing on the following questions:

Name at least one thing your organization can contribute to the IWT What are your challenges? What resources do you need or wish you had? What one thing about the IWT hinders your goals?

A plenary discussion section followed to identify common challenges. The afternoon group was told to discuss solutions to these challenges.

Results included the tangible and intangible, which marks some of the follow-up challenges of hosting an IWT. In terms of concrete takeaways, participants wanted a depository for information and documents. An IWT website is in development in response to this, although a wiki-page was also suggested to keep ideas going. Not all participants were aware of NWS Chat and the benefits it provides especially during severe weather events. Two NWS Chat webinars were hosted post-workshop to raise awareness. These efforts will continue over the coming months. Some of the more challenging results include the need to have more diverse stakeholders participate in IWT activities such as elected officials, first responders and department of public works staff. There were also recommendations to improve services to special needs populations. Although there is a great desire to make improvements, financial costs were discussed as a current barrier. Another long-term recommendation is to create a customer-specific impact catalog. A catalog is currently under development at the national level, however it will take some time to implement at the local WFO level.

The success, and subsequent challenge of an IWT, is how to follow-up and maintain momentum. Although the WFO Binghamton hosted the first IWT, different stakeholders should organize subsequent workshops. The hope is that by having different organizers for the workshop, each IWT will have unique findings and recommendations. It may also allow participants to tour other facilities, such as offices of emergency management, or a media studio. Another suggestion was to host smaller, more frequent workshops, which would help minimize travel time and costs. Alternatively, more webinars were suggested for topics such as continuing to learn about NWS Chat. As noted above, a website is in development, but could become a challenge to maintain.

Overall, the IWT was successful and very worth the time and effort. Challenges remain in terms of implementing solutions, finding adequate funds, and ensuring full stakeholder participation. Despite these challenges, the IWT format provided an opportunity to gather many of our stakeholders and discuss concerns with a unique format. Many workshops are very structured, but the uniqueness of the IWT format is that it allows for more unstructured conversations and breakout sessions. Having social scientists facilitate the plenary sessions also helped for two reasons. It allowed the NWS staff to participate rather than lead the workshop, and secondly, they provided an unbiased perspective allowing them to hear themes in the discussion that may have otherwise been overlooked. From the WFO Binghamton perspective, more NWS offices should host an IWT. The benefits far outweigh the challenges.