Emergency Response Specialists Keep Scouts Safe

Date Posted: September 12, 2013
The 2013 National Boy Scout Jamboree was held at its new home at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., from July 15 through 24.  The reserve is located on a 10,600 acre plot of land near the New River Gorge, with little to no permanent shelter.   

Knowing this, the West Virginia Director of Homeland Security and the West Virginia National Guard requested National Weather Service on-site meteorologists.  In addition to having staff on-site from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m., the NWS forecast office in Charleston, W.Va., staffed a decision support services, or DSS, desk for the Jamboree.

More than 36 thousand scouts and staff stayed on site for the 10-day event. There also were an additional 16,000 day visitors. The warmest temperatures in the area thus far in 2013 occurred during the early part of the event.  During the latter part of the event, the average number of shower and thunderstorm days for the entire month of July for the event location occurred.  This provided a serious heat, lightning, wind and flash flood threat.    
 
Julia Ruthford and Chris Leonardi, emergency response specialist, or ERS, meteorologists from the NWS Charleston forecast office, and Matt Moreland and Tim Erickson, emergency response specialist meteorologists from the NWS Slidell, La, forecast office were deployed to the Joint Inter-Agency Task Force, or JIATF, located across the highway from the Summit Reserve in the Glen Jean Armory.
 
The on-site meteorologists worked very closely with the forecast office DSS Desk to provide highly-detailed forecasts based on the customer’s needs.  The forecasts and traditional products were issued from the forecast office, and the on-site meteorologists were on hand to interpret the information, and to create and conduct routine and impromptu briefings. 
 
“Having the NWS meteorologists on site was critical. You just need to look at the information provided before and during the stadium show,” said Bill Walker, Director of Intelligence at the West Virginia National Guard.
 
Early Preparation is Key
 
Preparation for this event started 18 months in advance for emergency response specialists Ruthford, Leonardi, and Jonathan Wolfe; Meteorologist-in-Charge Jamie Bielinski; Science Operations Officer Jeff Hovis; and Warning Coordination Meteorologist Faith Borden. They met with key players for the event to find out their concerns and the detailed forecasts they would require.
 
The uniqueness of the situation required a heightened concern when it came to lightning and winds. In addition, the location of the camps along the New River Gorge caused a serious flash flooding concern. Based on the early meetings, the local office created specialized alerts for lightning and winds. This information would be different than standard warning criteria, so it quickly became apparent they would need to get this information to the key players in a timely matter. The products were delivered to an NWSChat room along with local forecast and observation information.
 
With the help of the NWS Charleston Information Technology Officer Kevin McGrath, a localized webpage was developed as a “one stop shop” for weather information relevant to the Jamboree and the nine surrounding counties where community service projects were conducted. To test the products created and the delivery methods the office participated in several tabletop and functional exercises prior to the Jamboree. Getting to know the players involved, early before the event, was key to a very successful and safe Jamboree. 
 
A Google site filled the need to overcome obstacles to coordinating seamlessly between the meteorologists deployed to the JIATF and the forecast office DSS desk. This is where all of the routine job duties, instructions, and contacts were located. The specialized forecasts and alerts were sent from here. It was also where the daily log could be accessed, and how collaboration on the slides occurred for the routine briefings. The NWS Charleston DSS desk used the daily log to create a nightly report that was distributed to Eastern Region Headquarters and to brief national headquarters. 
 
The Main Event
 
Coordination and preparedness between all players became very important on the Saturday of the Jamboree.  This was the day of the “main event,” and over 100,000 people were expected for the big concert where popular big-name artists perform.  Unfortunately, this was also one of the most active weather days for the event.  Not only was excessive heat still a concern, the atmosphere was also transitioning to a thunderstorm/flash flooding threat.  
 
In coordination with the NWS Charleston DSS desk, the emergency response specialist on-site provided daily briefings to the JIATF.  Several days leading up to the “main event,” the emergency response specialists highlighted the potentially dangerous weather, especially that the lightning would begin at the same time as the concert.  Based on the consistent information provided, on Friday before the concert, the organizers decided to move the start time for the show from 7 p.m. to 4 p.m.  This allowed the organizers to have the visitors cleared from the site, and the scouts back to their respective basecamps prior to a direct lightning strike in the area.  At 6:45 p.m., lightning struck the scout camp.  Thankfully, no injuries were reported.  
 
“Based on the real-time, up to the minute information it was decided to move up the start time of the show and to have the area cleared before the anticipated arrival of the storms,” said Walker. The forecasters were able to forecast within 15 minutes the time of the arrival of the storms, which coincided with a direct lightning strike to the area.
 
“This saved an estimated $200,000 in equipment, and unknown number of lives, as the 60,000 scouts were already back to their basecamps, and the 40,000 visitors were already on the busses back to their vehicles,” added Walker.
 

With lessons learned from the 2013 Boy Scout Jamboree, the NWS can better prepare for future support of the 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree and other big events. 

Decision support services are an example of NOAA’s efforts to build a Weather-Ready Nation. NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative, launched two-years ago, has resulted in improvements in products, services and the way information is communicated to the public and partners. These improvements increase resilience to severe weather and reduce the potential of significant societal and economic impacts from severe weather. A Weather-Ready Nation is a society that is prepared for, and responds effectively to, weather-related events.