4.4A Perceptions about Social Science among NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologists

Tuesday, 24 January 2017: 1:45 PM
613 (Washington State Convention Center )
Kathleen Sherman-Morris, Mississippi State Univ., Mississippi State, MS; and H. B. Lussenden

Perceptions about Social Science among NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologists

Following findings by the NOAA science advisory board in 2003 and 2009, the agency began to pay an increased amount of attention to social science and the roll it can play in carrying out NOAA’s mission (NOAA, 2015). To further NOAA’s goals, the National Weather Service incorporated social science research and methods to increase community resilience and better communicate risk through such efforts as developing impact-based warnings and assessing current watch, warning and advisory products. Until the present, a survey of NWS meteorologists had not been conducted regarding their perceptions of the increased social science emphasis or priorities.  The current project attempts to fill this gap by surveying Warning Coordination Meteorologists (WCMs) at each NWS forecast office across the United States, in part to determine whether employees think this emphasis has been about right, too much, or not enough. More importantly, however, project results will characterize the importance of several research themes to the local NWS offices. This includes research ideas that the WCMs suggest themselves as well as their responses to a list of themes provided. Additionally, WCMs were asked to rate their knowledge about eleven prominent topics involving social science, and state their opinions about potential problem issues such as false alarms, hype, and message consistency. The study received permission to begin contacting WCMs at the end of July, 2016. Of the 132 people emailed, thus far 32 responses have been received, including 3 partially completed responses (24.2% response rate). A second distribution of the email message is planned. The sample has averaged 23.6 years at any NWS office and has worked at their current office on average 14.8 years. No climate region had more than five respondents. Regions with four or five respondents included Northern Rockies and Plains, the Northeast, the South/Southern Plains, and the Southwest. Every region had at least one respondent.

Based on the initial 32 responses, 59% believe the emphasis on social science has not been enough. About 6% believed it is too much, while 34% believed it is about right. When asked to state their most ”burning question” related to social science, most of the responses could be broken down into one of three categories. These are how well individuals understand weather information disseminated by NWS offices, how and why individuals respond the way they do to warning information, and how can NWS alter their messages to influence a particular response.   A high percentage of the sample, (44%) had already contacted a social scientist to help them answer some such question in the past. Additionally, a few who had never contacted a social scientist knew a person whom they could call. When the question was reversed, just fewer than half (47%) had ever been contacted by a social scientist to provide feedback on a weather-related project. WCMs believe they understand how emergency managers and media use their information much more than they understand the public. In a similarly worded question, they feel that they partner better with emergency managers than they do media. When rating the importance of funding a list of social science research topics, WCMs rated most topics highly. What causes someone to not take precautions in a warning and what information decision makers find most effective at conveying a warning were rated the most important. They rated their current knowledge of these topics closer to the midpoint of the scale, and at a much lower level than in the previous question. Their perceived knowledge was the greatest regarding which information forecasters find most useful and how forecasters make decisions. They survey did not test their actual knowledge of any of these topics. When given a list of possible perceived problems, WCMs rated message inconsistency and forecast inconsistency the greatest problem for their warning area. A large majority agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that inconsistency leads to the public believing their forecasts are less credible and that the public may take fewer precautions during a warning due to inconsistency.  They also believed a high false alarm rate leads to fewer precautions taken and disagreed that the public generally takes actions that lead to protective action. Because the survey is on-going, results should be viewed as preliminary. Additional responses will be incorporated into the analysis on the accompanying poster.

NOAA (2015) Social Science Vision and Strategy, Supporting NOAA’s Mission with Social Science. [Online at http://www.ppi.noaa.gov/wp-content/uploads/SSVS_Final_073115.pdf]

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