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Weather and Society Watch
Highlights

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Atlanta Integrated Warning Team Workshop: A WAS*IS Success
by Daniel Dix* and Jessica Fieux**

The first Atlanta Integrated Warning Team (IWT) workshop was held June 1-2, 2011, at the Georgia Tech Research Institute Conference Center in downtown Atlanta. The Atlanta workshop was based on the first IWT, inspired by the Weather and Society * Integrated Studies (WAS*IS) movement, and held in Kansas City in 2009.

This workshop brought together 65 representatives from the National Weather Service (NWS), federal, state, and local emergency management agencies including FEMA Region IV and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and meteorologists from the media, academia and industry to review and further understand each group's role in the warning process and find areas for improvement. The vision of the team is to reduce weather-related fatalities and injuries by integrating meteorology and the social sciences and to work more closely together to better serve our many partners and end users.

To start off the workshop, participants learned about the different responsibilities of the main members of the team – the NWS, emergency managers, broadcast meteorologists, and the private sector. Each group was encouraged to describe not only their responsibilities, but their challenges, constraints, concerns and opportunities for working with the other groups. This was also an opportunity for groups to dispel any misconceptions about their responsibilities.

During lunch, the participants were treated to a presentation by the NWS Peachtree City (Atlanta) hydrologist about the September 2009 metro Atlanta floods which was truly the impetus for this Integrated Warning Team workshop. This was followed by a joint presentation by the NWS Birmingham and Huntsville offices on the Alabama tornado outbreak of April 27, 2011 and the many challenges of that historic day.

During the afternoon on the first day, social scientists from the University of Georgia and North Carolina State University, discussed the importance of incorporating social science into meteorology. On this team, these two fields will work together in the warning process to educate the public and understand how best to communicate severe weather information. Later in the first day, participants were divided into smaller groups and assigned one of the following tasks: map the current warning process, map the ideal warning process or describe the inter-relationships between the NWS, emergency managers, broadcast meteorologists, the private sector and the public.

Day two was started with a presentation to help participants an agency whose mission is communication. Jana Telfer, Associate Director of Communication with the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, gave a quick lesson on multiple risk communication models. In addition, she shared what to do and what not to do in terms of communicating with the public based on her experience.

After this the participants with each of the three small groups from day one were tasked to present their results to the entire team. After each short presentation, participants were able to ask questions and have considerable time for discussion. Throughout these discussions many action items were developed. Immediately after lunch, participants were given 12 stickers to vote for the action items they felt were most important. To complete the process participants were encouraged to stick a post-it note next to any action item they would be interested in being a sub-team member. The action items were prioritized and subset teams were created to address these. After the votes were tallied, it was determined that the top 4 action items were as follows:

1) Develop a permanent IWT,
2) Try to identify legislation that needs to be changed, removed or created that hinders public safety in regards to severe weather,
3) Improve the Severe Weather Statement associated with a warning,
4) Increase the use of pre-event preparedness, safety rules, and awareness.

This workshop is only the beginning! These subset teams or working groups (Product and Service Reinvention, Product and Service Remodel, Regulations and Guidelines, Preparedness, Communication), of the Integrated Warning Team will work to address the action items and the entire IWT will meet via conference call regularly to follow-up on their progress. The good thing is that some of these very action items are already being addressed within each participant's organization. After a year, another workshop will be held to re-evaluate the action items and plan how to proceed based on results from the first year. This workshop and subsequent working teams are just some of the ways the IWT is working towards improving the warning system in an effort to keep citizens safe and aware of the weather situations when they occur.

* Daniel Dix (daniel.dix@mac.com) is a senior weather systems graphic engineer and meteorologist at The Weather Channel.

** Jessica Fieux (Jessica.Fieux@noaa.gov) is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Ga.

 

 

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