EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation - June 16, 2004

A National All Hazards Warning System
Implementing the Vision with NOAA Weather Radio
and the Emergency Alert System

Gregory L. Noonan
Warning Applications Meteorologist
Central Region Headquarters, National Weather Service

Amy Sebring
Moderator, EIIP Technical Projects Coordinator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: On behalf of Avagene Moore and myself, welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Today's topic is "A National All Hazards Warning System: Implementing the Vision with NOAA Weather Radio and the Emergency Alert System."

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce our speaker Gregory Noonan, Warning Applications Meteorologist at the National Weather Service's Central Region Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri. Greg joined Central Region Headquarters in October 2001, assuming far-reaching responsibilities focused on regional and national dissemination programs such as the NOAA Weather Radio and the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network (EMWIN).

In 2002, Noonan received the Isaac Cline Award, the National Weather Service’s highest honor, in the program management and administration category.

Welcome, Greg. Thank you for being with us today, and I now turn the floor over to you to start us off, please.


Greg Noonan: Thank you and welcome everyone.

On June 30, The National Weather Service (NWS) will begin national implementation of the new Specific Area Message Encoding / Emergency Alert System (SAME / EAS) event warning codes for a variety of non-weather events over NOAA Weather Radio (NWR).

There are six new weather related codes, one administrative related code, and fourteen new non-weather emergency codes. The non-weather related EAS messages are prepared by local or state civil authorities and may be relayed over NWR and EAS. A key point about the non-weather related code is that the NWS does not initiate the non-weather related EAS messages; they just relay them in accordance with local and state emergency plans.

The Federal Communications Commission, which makes the rules concerning EAS, dictated the event code changes back in 2002. The NWS waited to implement the new SAME / EAS event codes and marine location codes primarily to allow EAS equipment manufacturers time to upgrade their products to accommodate the new codes, and to allow broadcasters time to upgrade their EAS equipment. NWR users with the newer SAME models will be able to program their receivers to receive only the alert messages they are concerned about such as fire warnings, AMBER alerts, local area emergencies, radiological or nuclear power plant warnings, and earthquake, landslide or volcano warnings. Users who do not want to receive certain kinds of alerts can opt out. Owners should program their new SAME/EAS event codes before June 30.

If the new event codes cannot be added to existing NWR receivers, the receiver may generate an unknown event alarm. Owners of non-upgradeable radios wishing to receive the new codes would have to purchase a newer model radio receiver. Instead of listing each of the new codes, a complete list of the current and new SAME / EAS codes to be implemented on June 30 is available at the following link:


Most of the new event codes are self-explanatory. Recommended definitions and content of non-weather event messages will be available very soon in NWS Instruction 10-518 Appendix C at http://www.nws.noaa.gov/os/NWSI_10-518AppC.pdf.

Chuck Wolf, Chair of the Houston Texas Local Emergency Communication Committee along with a NWS Working Group were key in developing this initial language. The NWS is providing the initial guidance, until specific recommendations are provided by a group authorized by appropriate government agencies. Local and State Emergency Communication Committees (LECCs / SECCs) are encouraged to follow these guidelines to provide consistent use of these codes across state borders.

Who is authorized to issue the new codes?

LECCs and SECCs can best determine which officials are authorized to request specific non-weather emergency messages and event codes. Such authority will vary by local ordinance, state law, and/or federal regulation, as will the agency names and titles of authorized officials.

For example, in the State of Texas, only the governor of the state, mayor of an incorporated city, or county judge of an unincorporated area are authorized to recommend evacuation. However, in Texas any evacuation is voluntary, not mandatory or required, as may be true in other states.

How often would one issue a non-weather related SAME / EAS code?

A warning or watch is normally issued only once to provide initial notification (alert) of the event. A new warning or watch should be issued if the hazard or recommended public protective action(s) has expanded into another county or geographic zone, or if the valid time has been extended. All other updates or cancellations of the event should be sent as a non-emergency Administrative Message (ADR) or preferably by other means (e.g., telephone, fax, e-mail, or media briefings) to local news media outlets.

So let's take a look at how the Current System works:

Today, through agreements with local and state governments and at the request of government officials, the NWS accepts emergency messages of non-weather related nature, such as chemical spills/releases, AMBER alerts, and radiological events, and informs/warns the public of these events through the various existing NWS dissemination systems.

Currently, the non-weather related emergency message is received at the local Weather Forecast Office (WFO) by telephone or fax from the local and/or state government agencies. The author of the information is manually authenticated and authorized by the WFO by validating a verbal password and/or checking the author or agency name against an approved source and scope list.

The message is evaluated for reasonableness, manually input by WFO staff into the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) where it becomes an AWIPS message, and then disseminated using the existing NWS dissemination systems, including NOAAPORT, NOAA Weather Wire Service, Family of Services, EMs Weather Information Network, and NOAA Weather Radio.

The current system has grave shortfalls. The manual security and message composition process is time-consuming and error-prone. Even in the best circumstances during emergencies, when time is most critical and where seconds can be the difference between life and death, manual intervention by the WFO staff adds minutes to the interval between the time the EM desires to warn the public and the time the public actually receives the message. Additionally, the manual text entry process is prone to typographical and grammatical errors when transcribing the EMs input and composing an AWIPS message for transmission.

Also, this system is not adapted for warnings at the national or regional scales, except Nuclear Attack Warning, a Cold War relic. Tomorrow, June 17, NOAA and DHS will sign an MOA that provides immediate improved capability for the DHS Operations Center to broadcast national/regional emergency hazard messages over NWR to the American public.

How does the NWS long term plan fix this shortfall?

All Hazards Emergency Message Collection System (HazCollect). The Nation needs a capability that streamlines the creation, authentication, and collection of all types of non-weather emergency messages in a quick and secure fashion for subsequent alert, warning, and notification purposes.

NOAA is assigned responsibility by FEMA's Federal Response Plan (FRP), and now in DHS’ 2003 National Response Plan to "provide public dissemination of critical pre and post event information on the all hazards NWR." NWS will improve support to FEMA's Federal Response Plan by integrating the automated collection and acceptance of non-weather related emergency messages into the NWS Information Technology (IT) infrastructure.

HazCollect will provide an IT interface between state and local systems (such as EMnet) and the NWS's AWIPS through FEMA's Disaster Management Interoperability Services (DMIS). HazCollect will streamline the process of emergency message creation and notification via NWS dissemination systems. The Emergency Manager (EM) will compose the emergency message on a computer using automated processes, and then transmit this message using standard IT telecommunications methods to the servicing NWS office(s). From this information, HazCollect will authenticate the user, and then format the non-weather emergency message using Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) and other existing formats for dissemination by DMIS and NWS systems.

This will eliminate the time for message composition and security checks by WFO personnel. Additionally, certain pre-designated EMs will be able to address their messages for national or regional dissemination via entry through one portal to the NWS.

HazCollect is still in the requirements phase, however funds have been earmarked by Congress for its development and it is currently expected to be deployed during the summer and fall of 2005.

That's a lot of information to digest, but I think it gives you the big picture on the new SAME / EAS codes and how the NWS plans to take it a step further and really streamline the process with HazCollect.

I've enjoyed the opportunity to present this information to you today and will now take any questions you may have. For that purpose, I will turn the session back over to our Moderator.

Amy Sebring: Thank you very much, Greg.

[Audience Questions & Answers]


Mark Wood: Does the information collected by HazCollect come in the form of text, voice, or both?

Greg Noonan: I believe that it initially it will be text, but I can see the need for voice. Good question.


Cotton Howell: I applaud this on the part of the NWS. This will solve many problems with jurisdictions along state lines with duplicate EAS systems.

Greg Noonan: Hopefully so.


John Merrell: You mentioned Nuclear Attack Warning, Chemical Spill, and Landslide. These are not current alert events; are they now in the new event codes? How many new events have been added?

Greg Noonan: I believe 21. There are one or two that the NWS will not be relaying but they are administrative messages.


Raymond Cheung: How much time do you now think it will take between composition and submittal of the message and dissemination of the message to the public through HazCollect?

Greg Noonan: I would imagine that it would be similar to the time it takes for the NWS to issue a warning. So, the main dependency will be how much initial typing is in the message. We are probably talking 2 to 5 minutes.


Craig Carpenter: How will the local WFO be alerted to issuance of such products? NAWAS?

Greg Noonan: That has not been determined yet. I believe the plans are through an AWIPS message.


Bill Sammler: Greg, who is making the final determination with regard to the validity (life/property threat) of a given message?

Greg Noonan: It's my understanding it’s the EM. The NWS is just relaying the message for the local or state government. I am assuming that if they are sending SAME / EAS codes they want it to go to everyone, media included.


Bill Sammler: Are criteria being set forth as to what denotes a valid message?

Greg Noonan: Yes, but I don't have the information with me.

Amy Sebring: The guidance you mentioned earlier will be helpful on this, Greg? When it is available, that is.

Greg Noonan: Are talking about the definition of the event codes?

Amy Sebring: Yes, and valid message content?

Greg Noonan: Yes, I believe that they will help. They should be posted within the week.


Avagene Moore: Greg, I am delighted to hear about this enhanced warning capability. Will be an asset for sure. Does the NWS know how much of the population is using weather alert radios percentage wise? Has a study been done? Or can you tell by sales?

Greg Noonan: Yes. The latest numbers I saw showed that only 13% of households use a NWR. I should also mention the NWS goal is to have 95% coverage of the U.S. population.


Craig Carpenter: When will all the new product IDs become valid PILs in AWIPS so that automation over CRS is more efficient?

Greg Noonan: Yes, there will be matching text products (PILs). Those will be ready later this fall.


Isabel McCurdy: Greg, are the messages just in English or available in other languages, like Spanish, for instance?

Greg Noonan: I don't know, sorry.


Steve Runnels: Could you please elaborate on the anticipated HazCollect authentication controls, including software/hardware required by the EMDs?

Greg Noonan: No, I really can't. HazCollect is still in the concept / requirements phase, so it hasn't been laid out yet.


Joe Sukaskas: FYI -- Weather radios are getting a plug in today's Seattle Times: "Weather radios, more than a nerd's tool" http://www.ledger-inquirer.com/mld/ledgerenquirer/news/nation/8935920.htm?template=contentModules/printstory.jsp. More publicity certainly would help expand the utility of these radios. Is such a public outreach campaign in the works to mirror the 6/30 rollout of additional features?

Greg Noonan: I don't know; I haven't heard anything. But I will pass that up to the NWS HQ folks in DC. Thanks.


Valerie Ritterbusch: Where did you get that statistic? I have seen a much lower number, specifically a recent study of the 1999 OKC tornado usage compared to last years outbreak. The number went down from 5%.

Greg Noonan: I would have to look up the source, and that may take a while but wasn't the study for the OKC tornado just about the people in the path of the storms?

Valerie Ritterbusch: Yes. The statistics I have seen is 89% of the entire metro OKC area was monitoring the storms by watching local TV, and less than 5% of the population were listening to NOAA Wx Radio.


Doug Crowley: For Ava and others – even with only 5 to 13% of households, NWR hits the media outlets for a much wider and faster distribution of the warning.


Mark Wood: In cell broadcast, we have different codes for each language (only in text), but of course we would need to have the message in each language from HazCollect to start!

Greg Noonan: I believe that the NWS is looking into XML in order to help with Cell phone broadcasts.


Bill Sammler: Greg, to expand on Isabel's previous question, I think areas currently served by Spanish NOAA Weather Radio will receive the alerts in Spanish. I don't know about the text messages.

Greg Noonan: Sorry, I don't have any additional information on language issues.


Don Campbell: Will older weather radios receive the new messages? Or do you know if the manufacturers are working on new radios which will include the new warnings with the ability to choose which ones you want to receive?

Greg Noonan: Depends, on how old the weather radio is. But yes, manufactures have been aware of the changes and are incorporating them into new models.


Jose De La Torre: What is the standard coverage of the warning signal for those listening to the radios?

Greg Noonan: Depends on the wattage of the transmitter. There are 100, 300, and 1000 watt transmitters. A typical 1000 watt has a radius of about 30-40 miles depending on terrain.


Joe Sukaskas: Does the SAME feature enable selective alerting (e.g., could I 'subscribe' to hurricane warnings on a statewide basis, while 'subscribing' to 911 telephone outage emergency messages only within my own community)?

Greg Noonan: I think that depends on the model of the receiver. Typically it has been an all counties or just the ones you programmed to listen for.


Mark Wood: I suppose we could transmit it in English on all language channels in the hope that English is the user’s second language (which it may be). Safer than saying nothing, just in case the user didn’t switch the English channel on.

Greg Noonan: I agree the NWS is looking into multi-language issues; I just don't have any information on it.


Amy Sebring: Greg, I believe you mentioned a group that will continue to work on the specifications for messages? Do you have any further information on who/how that group will be proceeding?

Greg Noonan: No. I don't know who or which agency will be spearheading that. The NWS needed to define the codes at least to some point in order to provide some initial direction and will be more than willing to help add more specific direction should it be necessary.


Jack Fox: If I were to buy a weather radio today, how would I determine which is new and which one is old? Which specifications should I look for?

Greg Noonan: I would check with the manufacturer. SAME features are what you're looking for.


Isabel McCurdy: Greg, by chance are you working with any Canadian counterparts?

Greg Noonan: I am not, but I know that the headquarters folks in DC are working with them.


Amy Sebring: That's all we have time for today. Thank you very much Greg for taking the time to share this information with us today. Please stand by while we make some quick announcements.

Again, the transcript will be posted late tonight and you will be able to access it from our home page or the background page. We also have a great archive of transcripts which you can access by topic from the home page.

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Thanks to everyone for participating today. Great questions and comments! We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Greg for a fine job.