EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation – November 03, 2004

NWS Draft Strategic Plan 2005-2010
Working Together to Save Lives

John Sokich
Senior Meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS)
Strategic Planning and Policy Office

Avagene Moore
EIIP Moderator

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]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to the EIIP Virtual Forum! Amy Sebring, my partner/associate, and I are pleased to see you in our audience today. Today's topic is "NWS Draft Strategic Plan 2005-2010 - Working Together to Save Lives." The timing of this session is good because you are asked to comment on the draft plan by November 30, 2004.

Now, it is my pleasure to introduce John Sokich, currently a Senior Meteorologist with the National Weather Service (NWS) Strategic Planning and Policy Office. He leads the NWS Strategic Planning effort and works on agency wide policy issues. Before joining the Strategic Planning and Policy Office, Mr. Sokich was the NWS Operations and Transition Manager as the NWS restructured its field offices and implemented new technologies as part of its $4.5 billion modernization. If you have not read the background materials, including our speaker's bio, please do so after today's session.

John, we welcome you to the EIIP Virtual Forum to discuss this important topic with our audience.


John Sokich: Thank you, Avagene, for such a nice introduction. Hello, everyone. It is indeed a pleasure to be here chatting with you today. NOAA’s National Weather Service has a unique relationship with our friends in the emergency management community. We have a common mission: to help save lives and property and keep people out of harm’s way.

We in the Weather Service supply the forecasts and warnings; you in the emergency management community help prepare and educate people, evacuate them when possible, and direct recovery efforts. It is truly a team effort.

Our society is changing and we all need to be agile to respond to those changing needs. The National Weather Service Strategic Plan lays out the path we will take to accomplish our mission, advance our vision, and integrate our core values. There are forces for change facing our agency, which help shape the NWS of the future. Some of those forces include:

• Increasing use of Internet technologies to deliver our information

• Growing population; increasing vulnerabilities to disruption by natural and technological hazards; and increasing concerns for homeland security.

• Requirements for a broader range of environmental information services from the National Weather Service.

We need to make sure our most important users, the emergency managers, get the information from us they need, when they need it, and in formats they can best use.

Our Strategic Plan helps prioritize our initiatives and formulate future budgets to help us achieve our goals. We need your comments on our draft plan to ensure we’re headed in the direction most useful to you -- whether it’s to improve our warning lead times, improve our forecast and warning accuracy, or develop new formats for delivering our information to you.

We, and all Federal Government agencies, are measured by our performance. I’m quite sure you’re all aware of our improved performance for providing warnings for tornadoes, flash floods and severe thunderstorms. We will continue to measure our performance in these and many other areas. While performance measures are not included in this draft plan, we expect many ‘predictive’ type skill measures to be included in the final plan. We are also exploring adding a measure of customer satisfaction to gage our performance. We started surveying our customers the past couple of years and the emergency management community has given us fairly high ratings.

The theme of this plan is "Working Together to Save Lives." It reflects our commitment to work closely with all of our partners to provide the services America needs. We rely on you to help us do our job better. As I mentioned a bit earlier, we provide the forecasts and warnings, you help prepare and educate the public and move them out of harm’s way when possible. We work together to make it all happen.

I believe all of you by now know the NWS signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the Department of Homeland Security, which allows Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to use the NOAA Weather Radio network to broadcast emergency messages. I know there have been many discussions on that topic, some even in this chatroom. Allowing the emergency management community access to a publicly funded broadcast network just makes sense.

We’re working to make it happen at all levels and provide local emergency managers a vehicle to broadcast emergency messages through our entire dissemination network, including NOAA Weather Radio, directly to the public and other users, such as the media. But that’s a topic of discussion all by itself. But, these are the type of topics we need you to comment about. Is it the right direction? How can we do more to meet your needs? Your comments will help us better plan our future. Please take the time to review our plan and give us your comments. The plan may be viewed at http://www.weather.gov/sp/ and your comments sent to me at: [email protected].

Thanks, and I’m now ready to take some of your questions.

Avagene Moore: Thank you very much, John, for your remarks.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Amy Sebring: John, what are some of the key interagency partnerships you are looking at fostering over the coming years?

John Sokich: Continued work with the Department of Homeland Security as a primary partnership and expanding to increased partnerships with other Federal agencies. EPA is another example for its work in public health (air quality). USGS is another and there are more.

cbrown: Is the NWS going to consider issuing only warnings after say 11pm - 6 am, and not the present watches?

John Sokich: Right now I believe NWS has no plans to change when warnings are issued. Severe and life threatening weather has no time limits; tornadoes occur at any time. That said, I believe local offices use discretion when requesting Emergency Alert System (EAS) activation and won't do it for longer fused warnings like winter storms.

cbrown: I agree with the warnings. My question is the watches that wake people in the night to say the possibility of severe weather and not a true warning.

John Sokich: NWS will issue watches whenever conditions warrant -- again weather is not subject to certain time periods.

Jeff Robinson: Is the NWS planning on using EMWIN in their plans for notifications of events and how would that work?

John Sokich: Emergency Manager's Weather Information Network (EMWIN) is one of the methods NWS uses to disseminate weather information. If by 'events' you mean weather events or other hazards, then yes. It will work as it does today. If you mean EAS activation, I suggest discussing the issue with your local NWS Office. I will give you the contact, if you need

Jennifer Vuitel: How well do you think your agency addresses needs of non-English speakers / readers?

John Sokich: That's a good question, Jennifer, As for how well we do it -- about as well as we can, which, I'm sure does not satisfy all of the non-English speaking public. However, our responsibility is to get the information, particularly warnings, out as quickly as possible. We are working to address the non-English speaking, and have made some, inroads there, for example, with Spanish only NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts.

Catherine Pomerantz: What is the process by which local communities access the EAS service, to originate the message as an Emergency Manager (EM)?

John Sokich: You will need to work with your local NWS office, which has responsibility for your area. We work with EMs to make sure emergency messages get into the system. That's a big push now, and you know NWR is now considered all-hazards so other than weather information is broadcast. That's a subject for another session with the NWR experts.

Terry Storer: Is there a feeling as to who will have message insertion privileges for the NOAA system? This appears to be a local concern, as we don't want every "official" to have the capability.

John Sokich: We're concerned, too, but I believe those issues are to be worked out with the local office. We'll need more detail from the NWR and dissemination experts on that, and that's a bit beyond my level of knowledge right now.

Avagene Moore: I would like to refer everyone to a recent NWS session we did with Greg Noonan http://www.emforum.org/vforum/lc040616.htm please look at it later.

Avagene Moore: John, how and how often do you (NWS) interact with emergency managers to get feedback and input on their community needs?

John Sokich: Local NWS offices interact with EMs in two capacities. First is with preparedness/education activities, which is usually tied to seasonal outreach efforts. The other is during hazardous weather situations, when interactions are immediate and depend on the frequency of the events. We hope the EMs will comment on our actions immediately.

When our offices complete their "event summaries," they routinely include comments from the emergency management community. More formally, we request comments during our customer surveys or at times like now, when we are drafting our Strategic Plan. We'll take feedback any time you want to give it to us.

Valerie Ritterbusch: Cbrown’s comments fall into the "overwarning" category, which I believe contributes to the relatively low percentage of the population who have weather radios, and then actually USE them. It only takes a few times of being woken up by the radio for a watch which doesn’t affect you before it gets unplugged and put on the shelf. There are evolving technologies to significantly reduce this over-notification. The new NWS warning polygons have the ability to significantly cut down the size of an area under a warning. Now we need delivery mechanisms to get more site-specific warnings delivered to individuals. Telephone notification is now feasible for short-fused, dangerous events.

John Sokich: I agree and we're moving in the direction of more area specific warnings. Not as quickly as some of us would like to see, but we're trying to get there. As for the delivery methods to get the info -- we're moving in that direction as well. There has been a great deal of chatter about a National Public Warning System (network, or whatever you want to call it). New technologies are the wave of the future (including telephone warnings) but each has its positives and negatives. But we are moving in that direction-- for example, I carry a pager and cell phone, but not my NWR receiver. We're heading that way, but it's not easy.

Lori Wieber: I am from the private sector - an electric utility company - that has both emergency management and meteorology operations groups in house. Is there any element of your partnering effort that would include us?

John Sokich: From a myopic perspective, we could work with you to help us "get the message out," i.e., preparedness type of information and the like. From a broader perspective, if you have a research component to your meteorology or EM operations a collaborative project is an option. Comments on the direction of our products and services to help make sure we're headed in the right direction are also very useful. Given more time, I'm sure we could explore other partnership opportunities -- observational data collection would be a great one

Eldridge Bradley: What are the plans, if any, for changing marine forecasting in Florida and also working with other agencies or organizations for information gathering?

John Sokich: Marine forecasting is something that needs to be addressed by the local office and the Marine Program folks at NWS Headquarters. I'm not versed enough to address that one. As for information gathering, that's a real exciting topic in NWS and across NOAA to use all assets that are available from Federal, state, local and private entities. NOAA/NWS is working toward a "national mesonet" of sorts, obtaining access to all observational data that's available. That, too, is a topic worthy of a lengthy discussion. But we need to harness all the info that's already out there.

cbrown: How is the Spanish only NOAA Weather radio accessed? With the computerized broadcast, is the NWS going to broadcast in multiple Languages at the same time? Valerie's comment is a concern; now that DHS and NWS are working together there is the problem of an increase of events/activations and people will unplug the radio, which is not what we want.

John Sokich: C, you raise excellent points. For NWR broadcasts, I do not believe NWS plans to have multi-lingual broadcasts from the same transmitter. There are technical limitations I don't quite understand. As we touched on earlier, the future of dissemination extends far beyond NWR. As for more than weather information being broadcast on NWR, we certainly hope any emergency events requested by DHS or local emergency managers to be broadcast on NWR are certainly worthy. As we move toward more area specific hazard warnings, we believe the "false alarms" will decrease the "unplug" mode of folks. I agree it's an issue, but using the NWR network to broadcast emergency information is just too good of an opportunity to pass. We need to move forward with our eyes open and your feedback is essential.

Amy Sebring: I understand there are some new digital products that make spatial (GIS) data available. Will there be continued development of spatial data as a priority and some outreach on how to use? I see this as being integral to the Advanced Hydrologic Prediction System (AHPS) in the future for example.

John Sokich: Amy, you are sure on top of things. As stated on the draft plan, GIS is an important area into which the NWS must expand. It will be much easier to support these types of efforts if we have the Emergency Management community needing information in these new formats (e.g. digital/GIS), and having those types of supportive comments sent to us about where to place our efforts in our Strategic Plan.

Isabel McCurdy: John, budget constraints and restructuring are the order of the day it seems. I am assuming a lot of these messages are automatic given that storms are seasonal and expected. The unexpected can happen so I am wondering is there someone manning 24/7- 365 days per year so the new information gets out quickly?

John Sokich: YES! That is our primary mission and we will be there. There are no plans to ever deviate from 24/7 coverage - 365 days per year. Let me clarify that none of the messages are automatic and a human always is responsible for issuing the messages. While there is automation to help us issue the warnings quicker, a person is always involved in the process.


Avagene Moore: That’s all we have time for today. Thank you, John. We greatly appreciate your effort and time on our behalf today. We trust you will get the input and feedback you need on the NWS Strategic Plan. As a reminder to the audience, the NWS Strategic plan may be viewed at http://www.weather.gov/sp/ and your comments sent to John at [email protected].

Please stand by a moment while we make some quick announcements. If you are not currently on our mailing list, and would like to get program announcements and notices of transcript availability, please see the Subscribe link on our home page.

We welcome one new Partner this week: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company, URL: http://www.lockheedmartin.com with Russell S. McQuiston serving as the Point of Contact to the EIIP. Welcome Lockheed! If you are interested in becoming an EIIP Partner, please see the "Partnership for You" link on the EIIP Virtual Forum homepage http://www.emforum.org.

Again, the transcript of today's session will be posted later today and you will be able to access it from our home page. An announcement will be sent to our Mail Lists when the transcript is available.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We appreciate you, the audience! We are adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to John Sokich for a fine job.