7.4 A Changing Culture; Expanding Decision Support Services within the National Weather Service

Wednesday, 13 January 2016: 4:45 PM
Room 255/257 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Erik Heden, NOAA, Johnson City, NY

The National Weather Forecast Office (WFO) in Binghamton, NY began doing decision support services (DSS) in the early 2000s. Early DSS consisted mainly of phone conferences that were restricted to local decision makers, such as county emergency management (EM's). These conferences were event driven and usually focused on flood threats, with our area being in one of the most flood prone areas of the country. The conferences were usually led by our Warning Coordination Meteorologist (WCM) or Senior Service Hydrologist (SSH). Through the mid and late 2000s DSS at WFO Binghamton expanded to online webinars that added the element of visual presentations and the ability to communicate in real time with numerous agencies simultaneously. While these webinars were still geared toward EM's, other agencies were added such as, Red Cross, Department of Health, Department of Transportation, etc. At that point, the public, including decision makers at the local school level, relied on our normal suite of products such as zone forecasts (ZFPs), area forecast discussions (AFDs), and our digital forecast database (NDFD). This presentation will focus on how WFO Binghamton expanded DSS to reach a wider audience that included decision makers at the local school level as well as, the general public.

In 2010, WFO Binghamton established a DSS Team with the goals of expanding our briefings to the general public and while training local staff to become proficient so that the program could be supported. Challenges addressed by the team included how to make a clear, concise briefing while still conveying a threat. Obstacles included justifying the need for briefings to more experienced forecasters that had not participated in DSS in the past and needed to provide training for those inexperienced at creating effective, eye-catching graphics. Through the next few years, participation in DSS gradually increased from just the WCM and SSH, to DSS team members, and eventually the entire staff. During this time, the briefings also evolved from EM driven briefings, which were often detailed and used technical language, to more clear and concise briefings. Through this transition, the delivery of briefings expanded from email lists of local EM's to now include public dissemination via the internet and social media.

After the expansion of the briefing program, the next focus was establishing a line of communication to our local schools via these briefings. While face-to-face communication is common between the NWS and EM's, our communication with local schools was limited. Through a series of webinars and also a local Integrated Warning Team (IWT) workshop, we learned that our briefings would be useful to local administrators to aide in their decisions to delay and/or close schools. Feedback from the expansion has been excellent and we have been applauded for providing clear, frequently updated, specific forecasts that have been a key in their decision process.

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