EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — June 10, 2009

HAZCollect Principles
And Non-weather Emergency Message (NWEM) Best Practices

Herbert L. White
Dissemination Services Manager
NOAA's National Weather Service
Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services
Silver Spring, Maryland

Amy Sebring
Disaster Management Program Office
Federal Emergency Management Agency

Avagene Moore
EIIP Moderator

The following has been prepared from a transcription of the recording. The complete slide set (Adobe PDF) may be downloaded from http://www.emforum.org/vforum/hazcollect/090610HazCollect.pdf for ease of printing.

[Welcome / Introduction]

Avagene Moore: Welcome to EMForum.org everyone. We are glad you could join us today. I am Avagene Moore, President of EIIP, and I will be serving as Moderator today, since Amy will be serving as a speaker.

Our topic today is "HAZCollect Principles And Non-weather Emergency Message (NWEM) Best Practices." The HazCollect system for the digital collection and transmission of emergency messages became operational at the end of April. Our title comes from the training course that has been developed through a collaboration between the National Weather Service and the FEMA Disaster Management Interoperability Program.

Please note that a two page handout is available, which you can access by clicking on the icon of the 3 overlapping pages at the top right of your screen. The handout is a copy of the Table of Contents of the Course. [http://www.emforum.org/vforum/hazcollect/HazCollecTOC.pdf]

There is a related survey on our home page which asks, "Does your jurisdiction plan to implement HazCollect?" Please take time to participate and review the results thus far.

Now it is my pleasure to introduce today’s guests. Herb White has been the NOAA/NWS Dissemination Services Manager with the Office of Climate, Water and Weather Services in Silver Spring, MD since January 2000. Since 2001, he has been active in enhancing NWS all-hazards dissemination and the national public warning capabilities.

Herb became interested in weather in his Junior High School years in south-central Pennsylvania. He earned a Bachelor's of Science degree in Meteorology from Pennsylvania State University and has completed numerous courses at the NWS Training Center and Operational Support Facility, Naval Postgraduate School and Florida State University.

Amy Sebring is Vice President and Technical Projects Coordinator for the EIIP. She also works as an independent consultant, and previously worked in Emergency Management for the City of Corpus Christi.

Through the EIIP, she currently works with the FEMA Disaster Management Interoperability Program Office, where she became involved with developing the HazCollect course.

Welcome back Herb, and thank you very much for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


[Slide 1]

Herb White: Thank you, Avagene, and hello to everyone. It’s good to be back with you again and especially the new folks that have an interest in HazCollect, but really, everyone. As Avagene mentioned, HazCollect Initial Operating Capability has been in full operation since April 30. We had actually one emergency message that was transmitted, and actually that was prior to April 30 during our test that we had in March, and that was a 911 telephone emergency outage message.

Today, we hope to give you some more information that you may need to get prepared for HazCollect. A couple of things about HazCollect itself—HazCollect is one method to relay emergency messages to the emergency alert system. NWS intends to approve registrants consistent with existing EAS plans. HazCollect insures NOAA weather radio broadcasts of your non-weather emergency messages. HazCollect provides additional distribution of NWEMs via NWS and non-NWS (National Weather Service) systems.

HazCollect facilitates and improves statewide or intrastate or regional non-weather emergency weather broadcasts. HazCollect uses Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) to achieve wider distribution of warning information.

What you’re looking at here is the HazCollect Rollout schedule that we developed mainly to focus outreach during the first two months of HazCollect’s operation. Now that we’re in the last 20 days, we no longer need to be limited by these phases. In fact, we’re welcoming everyone who wants to register at this point to go ahead and register. We’ll outline some steps in a moment for that.

One thing that I will mention here is that one thing that HazCollect is not—HazCollect is not a turnkey system. What that means is that the manual methods, that is, the telephone, radio link, fax, e-mail and other messages that are currently in use between warning authorities, mainly emergency managers and the National Weather Service office, to communicate information for non-weather emergency messages today, those messages will continue to be supported where needed and as backup to HazCollect at all locations where they’re currently in place.

While there’s no requirement for warning authorities to use HazCollect, its use is encouraged for the many reasons, including leveraging the advantages I’ve already mentioned.

[Slide 2]

Here we’re looking at some URLs. Some of them are National Weather Service sites, and some are FEMA disaster management sites.

Amy Sebring: Thanks Herb. I want folks to be aware that it is because of your tireless efforts on behalf of state and local emergency managers that the HazCollect system exists at all. Before I discuss the training course, I am going to provide a little additional background.

This slide presents a list of URLs that are related to HazCollect for reference. You will be able to download the slide deck later today and these URLs will be active, so you do not need to write them down at this point.

The first two URLs are the main pages from both the FEMA DM program and the National Weather Service, and essentially mirror each other. The remaining URLs are found on the main pages, but are provided here for direct access. These relate to steps in the application process which I will be reviewing in just a moment.

[Slide 3]

This is a screen shot of the HazCollect section on the DM Program Web site. Notice the subsections that can be accessed from this page. If you are a prospective user, you will want to review the material found at "For Government." This material is also covered in the first chapter of the training course, and to access the training course, click on the "Training" tab.

[Slide 4]

The next two slides are screenshots of the top and bottom of the NWS HazCollect Website,

[Slide 5]

and you can see that the same sub-sections are included here as well.

[Slide 6]

This next slide is a brief outline of the general steps in the process for implementing HazCollect, and a recommended sequence of events. First, you will want to learn more about the system, whether your organization is eligible, or if HazCollect is right for you before proceeding. These topics are covered in the first chapter of the training, so that is a good place to begin.

If you decide you do wish to pursue HazCollect access, then you can go ahead and apply for a DM Collaborating Operating Group or COG from the FEMA DM program that represents your geographic area of responsibility. Your COG is what identifies you in the HazCollect system. The direct link to the application form was provided earlier, and it is fairly straightforward.

While you are waiting for your COG to be approved, (it takes a week or two) you can complete the rest of the training. You will also need to refer any other individuals from your organization that you plan to authorize to transmit NWEMs to the training, and track their successful completion. That will be your responsibility.

Once your COG has been set up and the training is completed, only then should you submit your application for HazCollect to the NWS. We will be showing that form near the end of our presentation today.

While you are waiting for you application to go through, this would be a good time to develop your HazCollect implementation strategy. I will be showing some Job Aids in just a moment that will help you do that.

You can also proceed with installing and configuring your NWEM authoring software. If you plan to use the DMIS Tools software, the NWEM authoring tool will not be displayed until your HazCollect application has been processed and approved.

Once you have complete access to HazCollect, you will want to set up message templates, and finally, incorporate HazCollect into any planned exercises. Again, all this information is covered in the training.

[Slide 7]

Now to focus on the training. First, let me say that the training is self-paced and is organized into five chapters that average approximately 20 to 30 minutes in length. Anyone is welcome to take the course and there are a number of reasons you might want to do this:

1. If you plan to apply for HazCollect on behalf of your jurisdiction, the training is required. The purpose is to ensure a minimum level of understanding is mastered; for experienced emergency managers, consider this a "refresher."

2. As I mentioned, you might want to learn more about the HazCollect system before deciding whether to pursue that option.

3. Even if you do not wish to pursue HazCollect, the NWEM Best Practices parts of the course, specifically chapters 2, 4, and portions of 5, apply equally to other methods of issuing non-weather emergency messages through the NWS dissemination systems and/or the Emergency Alert System.

4. Or, perhaps you would like to learn more about the Common Alerting Protocol, or CAP, which is the underlying XML messaging standard upon which HazCollect is based. You may be aware that the entire Emergency Alert System, as well as the Commercial Mobile Alert System, will be transitioning to CAP in the future. Chapter 3 describes some of the basic CAP data elements and how they are used by HazCollect.

5. Finally, if you are a software developer interested in designing an NWEM authoring tool, the course provides a general understanding that may be useful to you.

Now, when you access the training through the provided link, this next screenshot is what will be displayed.

[Slide 8]

This is the COMET program’s MetEd learning management system out in Colorado who have graciously hosted the training for us. Setting up a MetEd account is very easy, and once complete, you will be redirected to the following page.

[Slide 9]

This is the top half of the page with some introductory material. Next is the bottom half of the page where you actually access the course material.

[Slide 10]

The course is provided in three different versions for convenience. The first link takes you to the course online at the MetEd server. The second link provides a ZIP file for you to install locally. This will enhance performance if you have a slower connection. The third option is a printable PDF file.

For those who wish to receive credit with the NWS for course completion, a final test must be taken on the MetEd server. Complete instructions for doing so are provided in all three versions.

The remaining links at the bottom are direct links to the Job Aids, included within the course, and a compilation of all the linked Web sites arranged both by lesson and organization. These are provided for quick access for future reference. We plan to add a list of related acronyms here in the near future.

[Slide 11]

This is a screenshot of the main page of the course. You can just page through the training, or use the tree structure at the left for navigation. This is a view with one of the chapters expanded.

[Slide 12]

As Avagene mentioned, the complete Table of Contents from the print version of the course is available as a handout.

Chapter 1 describes HazCollect background information, a high level overview of how the system works, user eligibility, and the steps required to access, as we reviewed earlier.

Chapter 2 describes the different types of NWEMs and how to use them appropriately.

Chapter 3 is an introduction to the CAP data elements, and how they result in the final broadcast message.

[Slide 13]

Chapter 4 is the Best Practices section that covers the topics you see listed on this slide.

Chapter 5 sums it up with an outline for developing a local implementation strategy, and additional Job Aids.

[Slide 14]

This screenshot shows some of the optional features used to supplement the text, including tips, reference links, and in this case, a link to a diagram. In addition, self-assessment quizzes are sprinkled throughout the course to reinforce points just covered.

[Slide 15]

This is a typical quiz. When you click on the "How Did You Do" button, immediate feedback is provided. In the print version, the answers are included at the end of each chapter. Scoring is not tracked for the quizzes.

Next, I would like to briefly give you an idea of the Job Aids that are available from the course. All of these can be saved to your local drive, and can be adapted for your use.

[Job Aid #1, NWEM Worksheet]

This worksheet is provided to help you start planning your implementation. You can see the various NWEM message types are listed down the left hand column. The second column gives you a place to record whether the related hazards are likely in your geographical region.

All NWEMs are intended for EAS rebroadcast; however, although all these message types are available through the NWS dissemination systems, they may or may not be available as EAS event codes in your local area. You will need to do some research and record your results in the third column for those message types selected in the second column. Based on your results, you can decide which message types you can use and check them off in the next column.

Just because you have general warning authority, specific agencies may be authorized for specific types of warnings by plan or agreement. A typical example would be a Child Abduction Emergency, commonly known as an AMBER Alert, which is usually assigned to a Law Enforcement organization. Again, some local research may be required.

Finally, if your own organization is large, specific individuals within your organization may be authorized for specific message types. An example may be a Hazardous Materials Warning, usually issued at the request of a Fire Service official. The results compiled on this worksheet will be referred to in the final chapter on implementation.

[Job Aid #2, Warning Decision Tree]

This next Job Aid is introduced in connection with the warning decision process lesson in the Best Practices Chapter. You can see that one of the factors in your decision will be the time of day. This diagram could be incorporated as an attachment to a Standard Operating Procedure.

[Job Aid #3, Generic NWEM Template]

This next Job Aid is a generic template that you can use as an outline to develop templates of your own. Ideally, you would develop a template for each type of NWEM you plan to use, based on your findings from Job Aid #1. Although the format is HTML, you can save to your local drive and open in Microsoft Word for example, or you can just copy and paste the text.

[Job Aid #4, HazCollect SOP Template]

It is a very good idea to have a HazCollect Standard Operating procedure for reasons outlined in the training, and we have tried to make it as painless as possible by providing a template. This file is in RTF format and should open easily in Word. The "fill in" blanks are highlighted in yellow, and the template is only 5 pages in length, not including any attachments or appendices. Your results on Job Aid #1 will be useful to completing the template with appropriate information.

[Job Aid #5, HazCollect After Action Review Checklist]

The final Job Aid is a sample After Action Review Checklist. This file is also in RTF format so you can easily adapt to your local criteria. I have been told that it meets the federal exercise requirements, although that is mostly a coincidence.

Once you have been through the course material, a brief final test is required for HazCollect access. Instructions to access are provided at the end of the course. In order to report the test results, please pay close attention to how to configure your MetEd account to do that.

Once you have completed the test, the MetEd system presents the opportunity to complete a feedback survey, and we encourage you to do so. You may also find email addresses for assistance from the Contact Us link on the top of each page.

Now we are going to quickly review the HazCollect application form, and then Herb will wrap up with a few words about what happens after it is submitted.

[HazCollect Application Form]


Herb White: The registration form is available, both linked from the Disaster Health DMS website as well as the National Weather Service HazCollect website for registration. You should start this process probably after you have started registering and have gotten your registration for a DM COG, as I believed Amy had mentioned.

On the actual HazCollect website, it’s very basic registration information until we get down to sections describing geographic area and your organization’s responsibilities. Basically, that speaks to justification for requesting public broadcast over both NOAA weather radio and EAS. That can be references to EAS plans.

One thing that Amy has mentioned a couple of times, and I mentioned at the beginning of the presentation here, HazCollect registration approval is heavily dependent upon EAS operational plans and participation in those operational plans. So the registration approval will have some references to the EAS plans.

If it’s for AMBER alerts, there may be references to AMBER alerts or child abduction emergencies. One of the things, and this links back to Amy’s discussion of the training, HazCollect and NWEM best practices training on the MetEd site, we do require the COG administrator to have completed that course. We get that information, as Amy mentioned, through the MetEd site to the National Weather Service automatically, if you configure your MetEd profile to do so.

The COG administrator, during the registration for HazCollect, does check a performance box agreeing to require that same training course of COG members, members within his/her COG, that would have post public authority, or basically transmit authority, within that COG, requiring those members that would have the post public authority to take the training in order to achieve and maintain that ability.

At the end of completing that form, (and you can complete it in a number of sessions—it doesn’t have to be all done at the same time. The status box at the bottom, you would change that to "complete". The default is "incomplete".) you submit the completed form. We receive that information here at the National Weather Service. You will receive a confirming e-mail back to you that the information was submitted to us.

[Slide 16]

Then we start the review process here in the National Weather Service. Some of that is confirming the COG identity and the COG name with the Disaster Management Program at FEMA, confirming the training course completion. We pass that information to the WCM, the National Weather Service office and the local WCM.

If you’re a county or city emergency manager or warning authority, for state warning authorities we would pass that information along to the state liaison warning coordination meteorologist for processing and approval. They would look at the EAS operational plans and the AMBER alert plans and their existing relationships with your emergency management organization, then give a recommendation back to the HazCollect review group.

The HazCollect review group is called the HRG, so you will probably see some reference to that. Some of the things we would look at in the HRG approval process is whether you’re a city or county emergency manager or warning authority, for example, if the state EMA watch office must approve any local messages prior to EAS broadcasts. Those types of issues will be worked out with the state EMA. In some states that is the method of operation. In other states, it is not.

As we’ve already mentioned, we have a strong dependence upon the existing EAS operational plans or other similar agreements that might be in place in the absence of an EAS plan that address public broadcast of warning messages over NOAA radio and the Emergency Alert System.

Avagene Moore: Thank you very much Herb and Amy. Now, to proceed to our Q&A.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Thomas Newell: Are the current NWS radios out there capable of receiving all of the NWEM? Specifically I was asking about the radios in people homes.

Herb White: Yes National Weather Service and NOAA Weather Radio is able to transmit all the messages. All of the receivers that have been manufactured, probably it’s safe to say since 2000 should be able to receive those messages.

Some of the very early receivers, if you recall 1996 and 1997 were the years that EAS first became operational and of course, SAME (Specific Area Message Encoding) became operational on NOAA Weather Radio, one or two of the early models may not have some of these NWEM categories in them, however to my knowledge, all of those models that do not can have the alert programmed into them, it’s just a longer manual method to program those in.

Additionally, because all of the new codes that were adopted by the FCC in 2002 and 2003 that we use in HazCollect and today on EAS, those codes all adopted the third character paradigm of using an A for watches, W for warnings, E for emergencies, and those will activate the weather radios as well.

To be sure, we encourage all purchasers of new receivers to look for the ‘PublicAlert’ logo, which is a program established with the Consumer Electronics Association, that those receivers do meet certain minimum criteria that does include all of these event codes.

Vanessa Mora: Will some form of system be available to the public? You had mentioned that everyone can register, but are there requirements for subscription, if there is subscription based service?

Herb White: This is a subscription based service for emergency managers and warning authorities to be able to relay their messages through the National Weather Service using Common Alerting Protocol and Disaster Management Infrastructure.

The public do not, and in fact there is no reason and no capability for the public to register for HazCollect. It is the registration for DMIS and DM COG and for HazCollect, is for warning authorities to be able to create and transmit a public message for NOAA Weather Radio, for the Emergency Alert System and for distribution on other systems, both National Weather Service Systems as well as other federal and state systems and private vendor systems.

Amy Sebring: At weather.gov, do you have a system for public capabilities there for folks to designate the areas they want to receive?

Herb White: There is the IMWS service that today is primarily for e-mail messages where you can focus your requests for alerts on a particular area. At this point we’re nearing capacity for the text messages for SMS and cell text messages but the e-mail infrastructure does remain and the public can sign up there.

Eric Garofano: Is it appropriate to use HazCollect to send out a message about what shelters and hospitals are open after a disaster?

Herb White: My answer would be yes, in catastrophic situations it is appropriate. That is post disaster information that can be classified as emergency information, especially if other means of disseminating that information, largely speaking of commercial radio and television, may be compromised or not in service immediately following a disaster. This would be an appropriate method of getting that information out.

The use of EAS and the use of NOAA Weather Radio, in those instances, using the appropriate product and message identifier (and there are some that are appropriate for this) that would be an appropriate message.

Amy Sebring: What you need to bear in mind is that the Emergency Alert System imposes, just by the way it’s structured, a two-minute message limit. The way that will be typically implemented in HazCollect is that the combination of the description of the event and the instructions to the public, cannot exceed 160 words.

If you have a lengthy list, chances are that may not be the most suitable. If you have other systems that are still up, that might be a better way to do it. What you might want to do is consider setting up phone banks that can relay that information and send out a short message about where to go to get that information.

Robert Stanley: Is the acronym COG: Continuity of Government?

Amy Sebring: When they decided to use COG, I told them that had already been taken by "Council of Government". I thought it might introduce some confusion. But no, it has no relation to "Continuity of Government" or "Councils of Government". It’s "Collaborative Operating Group". Just think of that as being your geographic area of responsibility.

Scott Thresher: I reside along the Gulf Coast of Biloxi Mississippi and have a hospital in Biloxi, clinics in Mobile AL , Pensacola, Okaloosa, and Bay Pines FL. I have a challenge to ensure all my staff/patients are kept aware of tornado warnings and hurricane threats. I work with various local and state EM agencies. Every agency operates a little differently. What is the best way (will your system provide this service) to keep all my areas up to date in a timely manner besides relying on television, radio, internet/intranet?

Herb White: That is a challenge. Actually, I don’t know if there is any or one single answer. It depends largely on the infrastructure that remains or that is there in place even before a disaster, let alone post disaster, and what capabilities each of those have and where they’re located. In other words, in some cases, if a person is basically tied to a work station, or a desk area, some sort of computer or internet connection with alerting ability, may be appropriate.

In a mobile environment, some form of radio, NOAA Weather Radio might be appropriate, cell phone, pager, text message, SMS message capability. You really need to be looking at a number of different methods, if I am addressing the question correctly.

Amy Sebring: He’s eliminated a lot of the options—television, radio, internet, intranet—once those are all down, you’re in a problem situation. However, if he’s talking about radio, in the context of publicly broadcast radio, that would be different than local emergency response agency’s radios that use to communicate directly with each other.

If there is some kind of regional planning organization—I don’t know if you’re participating in the MMRS [Metropolitan Medical Response System] system, you may not be—but regional planning sometimes does incorporate, because you provide such vital services, to let you get a radio for the responders. They would probably still be up in that situation. They usually have backup systems to make sure they’re available. You’re really going to have to work with your local response agencies.

Vanessa Mora: Does the IMWS system you mentioned require subscription with e-mail and phone text system, like the FEMA Disaster Declaration updates where you can receive e-mails?

Herb White: Yes. It can either be by telephone or e-mail.

Scott Thresher: Will your system provide an automatic immediate notification?

Amy Sebring: Maybe we didn’t provide much background information about what the system is and what it does. Essentially, it’s going to take non-weather messages, collect them from the issuing jurisdiction, for the purpose of getting out a public warning.

The public warning goes out through various mechanisms. One of which is, if the television is on, "this program is interrupted" and you’ll hear the beep, and it will be displayed on the television, just like you may have experienced with weather warnings that occur now. In that sense, if you’re watching television, yes, you can have immediate notification, or radio.

To get it other ways, you’d have to sign up through one of the receiving end systems like the one that Herb described from the National Weather Service. There are also a number of other efforts within the states where they have made receiving messages via either e-mail or direct simple text to your cell phone available.

What you might want to do, for those that are interested on the public receiving side, is research through your state emergency management organizations, typically, whether or not they have that type of broadcast service available. A number of them do. That’s the best we can do.


Avagene Moore: Time to wrap for today. Thank you very much Herb and Amy for an excellent job, and we wish you success as HazCollect is implemented across the country.

Herb White: I’d like to acknowledge Amy Sebring for the tremendous effort and tremendous work that she did. She did a lion’s share of the work, working very closely with the National Weather Service HazCollect Advisory Team on the HazCollect principles and NWEM Best Practices training course that she demonstrated here today. I really want to acknowledge her tremendous effort and great work in accomplishing that.

Amy Sebring: It was a real privilege and really a challenge and very rewarding to work on it with you. I do want to mention that in that context, once you’re in the course, if you have questions, if you have problems, if you have comments, that my emforum.org e-mail address is accessible from that. I certainly would be happy to get some feedback or help you with it. Thanks.

[Slide 17]

Avagene Moore: The recording should be available later today and the transcript early next week. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page to Subscribe.

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Thanks to everyone for participating today. We stand adjourned.