7.3 The Benefits of Social Media Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOST) in the NWS During High Impact Weather Events

Wednesday, 13 January 2016: 4:30 PM
Room 255/257 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Aaron Treadway, NOAA/NWSFO, New Braunfels, TX; and T. Boucher, K. Jones, R. Smith, C. Pieper, and M. Barry

During a major disaster, first responders, emergency management officials, and disaster recovery personnel are faced with a highly complex and rapidly changing situation. Nothing is more important to those making critical, life-saving decisions than accurate information during the event. However, the torrent of information can become overwhelming. Virtual Operations Support (VOS) is an effort to make use of new communication technologies and tools, enabling trained volunteers to lend virtual support to those on-site, who may otherwise be overwhelmed by the volume of information generated during a disaster. There are active emergency management VOS teams (or VOSTs) in a number of states across the country.

During a high impact weather event, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists face the same complex and rapidly changing situation as members of Emergency Management. Social media is just one of many tools Weather Forecast Offices (WFOs) use to maintain situational awareness during severe weather. Recognizing the plethora of valuable information available through social media, WFO's have established designated workspace, duties, and staffing for social media interaction. However, the volume of social media during high impact weather events can be overwhelming. VOST engages non-impacted WFOs and outside groups, such as OK VOST and #tSpotter, to share in the socal media workload during significant events. Staff from WFOs with benign weather are utilized to support impacted WFOs by gathering and sharing intelligence from social media.

This presentation will discuss the experimental phase of the Supplemental Assistance Volunteer Initiative (SAVI), a VOST of NWS meteorologists. Through several events, including Tropical Storm Bill, the SAVI team demonstrated leveraging the expertise of social media savvy meteorologists to lighten the workload of a WFO requesting assistance, but also improve report quality by discovering old and false reports. Through coordination between the affected office and volunteers, a clear outward message was communicated, while maintaining situational awareness. The events showed multiple WFOs could be effectively served by volunteers with a significant positive benefit to the situational awareness and workload of the affected WFO. Volunteers were able to work mostly independent of the affected WFO, feeding all pertinent reports to the WFO, but also able to respond to specific requests from the affected office.

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