S113 Understanding Emergency Manager Communications with the NWS

Sunday, 22 January 2017
4E (Washington State Convention Center )
Sean Ernst, Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK; and D. S. LaDue and A. Gerard

For Emergency Managers (EMs), preparations for severe weather have always relied on accurate, clearly explained National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts.  Though the NWS has made impressive strides in forecasting severe weather, there can still be a gap between the forecast information the service creates, and the response that EMs take after receiving that information.  Understanding why this gap exists, especially from the consumer standpoint, is vital to ensuring that future improvements to the warning system in the form of the National Severe Storms Laboratory’s Forecasting A Continuum of Environmental Threats (FACETs) initiative are to succeed operationally.  With the goal of learning the perspectives of the EMs involved in the warning process, this study uses the Critical Incident Technique to identify themes from incidents involving weather that went well, or not so well, for these EMs.  In total, 11 emergency managers from a variety of locales east of the Rockies were interviewed, five of whom were county EMs, two were city EMs, two were state EMs, and one EM each were from military and school districts.  We found that EMs follow a clear path from searching for a low confidence, long term “heads up” on incoming impacts, down to detailed location and impact information during an event that they often actively reach out for from the NWS.  EMs also shared a common trust in the NWS, built through outreach and training programs over the years.  However, EMs had difficulty preparing for highly uncertain event when only given deterministic information, instead of the range of possible outcomes.  In summary, EMs are already starting to work in a FACETs-friendly frame, and could be very responsive to the more accessible forecaster input proposed in the system.  Additionally, products such as threat over time and PHI guidance could better communicate uncertainties to EMs during stressful events, while increased education of EMs through NWS outreach could improve their understanding of the types of impacts these storms can have.
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