The NWS needs to ensure that all offices have adequate telephone lines to provide
proper service during severe weather and flood events. The availability of telephone
communications became an issue at both the NCRFC and NWSO FGF during the 1997 flood. NWS
forecast offices were unable to reach the NCRFC on more than one occasion. Telephone
communications were very nearly lost at the FGF office due to the threat that the flood
itself would inundate the local telephone switching center. At one point at FGF, one line
was inoperative; and another line was very noisy. The success of the service backup at FGF
depended, in part, on the continued telephone service at FGF so that callers received a
recording with instructions to call the backup site. Several parties (e.g., the USACE)
mentioned the effectiveness of cellular phones during the flood fight but also noted some
problems of overuse and attendant call blocking; the NWSO FGF also used cellular
14: Telephone services for the NCRFC and for FGF were critical to these offices
during the 1997 flood. The number of lines available at NCRFC was inadequate, and
telephone service at FGF was very nearly lost.
14A: The NWS regions should establish administrative procedures to assure that
adequate phone services are available.
14B: The NWS should investigate the availability (and cost) of backup telephone
services that might reroute calls around failed telephone switching systems.
Service Backup at Grand Forks Office
The transfer of service from and back to NWSO Eastern North Dakota appeared to go well
from an external view. Within the agency, there was some minor confusion during the
process regarding staff reassignments, but overall duties were performed very well.
Transferred services were properly accomplished by the supporting NWS offices, especially
NWSFO Bismarck. The fact that these offices only recently transferred aviation, public,
and Hydrologic Service Area (HSA) responsibility to NWSO Eastern North Dakota contributed
to this success.
The MIC at NWSO Eastern North Dakota attributes the success of the service backup, in
part, to the gradual (i.e., one service area at a time) transfer of services from/to NWS
offices; this should be considered in the event that service backup is needed in the
Impacts of the Flood on FGF
This event had a severe impact on the FGF office itself, both as regards the facility
and as regards the staff. Positioning a sector facility technician at the FGF office was a
great help in keeping the facility itself open and in avoiding damage to the facility
during the time that service backup was initiated. About half of the staff had damage to
their homes; one was a total loss. Yet, the staff continued to provide services to the
public throughout the event. Policies on the use of leave by the staff in their personal
recovery from the damage were liberalized, but the staff could have been supported in this
area more quickly with a bit of foresight on the impact of the event of the staff. There
are provisions for special assistance under the terms of the Employee Assistance Program
(EAP) that could have been exercised to offer aid to the staff .
The NWS was well prepared for the impact of the flood event on the Eastern North Dakota
NWSO facility but less prepared to offer aid to the NWS employees who were personally
affected by the flood.
15: In any future event that has a widespread personal impact on the staff of an
NWS office, the appropriate NWS Director should be prepared to aid the staff by (1) using
the Employee Assistance Program to provide on-site support and (2) providing liberal leave
to the extent possible.
NWS Staffing to Support Emergency Operations
The staff resources of the NWS are quickly overtaxed during a major widespread disaster
such as was experienced in the Red River of the North during April 1997. Emergency
Operation Centers (EOCs) at Wahpeton, Grand Forks, and East Grand Forks were not staffed
with NWS personnel during the Red River of the North flood. However, in discussions with
the survey team, city and county emergency officials did not express a strong need to have
NWS staff at the EOCs and felt they received adequate services via telephone, modem, and
Internet communications. Certainly, computer communications make weather information
available in a more user-friendly and timely manner than in the past; however, in-person
service can extend beyond this and assist emergency managers in the decision-making
process. Since EOC briefings often provide an opportunity for media contact, the lack of
NWS representation also tends to reduce the media contact with the NWS. And local
officials may have specific information of value to the NWS that will be conveyed more
readily face-to-face. Impacts of overtime/compensatory time costs on NWS budget resources
must also be considered.
The NWS needs to evaluate as an agency what level of staffing, if any, it can provide
to city, county, and state EOCs, and what the needs of emergency managers are. Although
NWS has limited staff to provide for EOC support on-site, there may be other creative
approaches to temporarily provide increased EOC support for major flood events. The FEMA
Reserves Program provides one model for this; for example, retired NWS staff could be
temporarily hired to provide additional NWS staffing during major flood events.
A variety of opinions were expressed regarding the desirability of providing NWS staff
support for city, county, and state Emergency Operations Centers.
16: The NWS needs to evaluate, as an agency, what level of staffing support, if
any, it can provide to city, county, and state Emergency Operations Centers and identify
possible alternate methods to meet these needs.
Coordination with Local Officials
Coordination with local officials involves exchange of information in both directions
-- provision of NWS forecasts and other data to local officials and the return of
information from local officials on any local effects that might have an impact on river
conditions and/or NWS forecasts. In general, this coordination activity was successful in
both directions during this event. Nevertheless, there are a few issues regarding local
coordination that deserve discussion. A great deal of interaction took place directly (by
telephone) between the RFC hydrologists and city/county engineers and emergency services
personnel in Wahpeton and Fargo, rather than via the forecast office in Grand Forks.
Coordination with local officials in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks followed a different
model, with the FGF office serving as an intermediary to the RFC. At times, city engineers
and county emergency managers in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks had information and
insight that might have facilitated the NWS flood forecasting effort but were so busy
fighting the flood itself that this information was not relayed to the NWS. (The failure
of the "plug" at the upstream end of Bygland Coulee discussed in the hydraulic
analysis in Appendix B below is an example of potentially
useful information that was not relayed to the NWS.) Considering the heavy work load at a
river forecast center during a major flood and the pre-existing local contacts between NWS
offices and the local officials in their service area, local forecast offices typically
act as a primary path for the flow of information between local non-NWS entities and the
NWS. However, the more direct contacts between the RFC and officials in Wahpeton and Fargo
were effective in this event and are certainly acceptable practices within NWS policies.
Coordination with State Officials
The survey team reviewed the effectiveness of NWS coordination with state officials in
North Dakota and in Minnesota. NWSFO Bismarck is the designated State Liaison Office for
North Dakota. Ray Steiger, the Deputy Director of the North Dakota Department of Emergency
Management (NDDEM), stated clearly that he would prefer to deal with only one NWS office,
even when the event at hand involves more than one NWS office. This puts an extra emphasis
on NWSFO Bismarck and NWSO Grand Forks to identify how Bismarck can best fulfill this role
in providing service to NDDEM and other state agencies. Jim Franklin, Director of
Minnesota Department of Emergency Management, also expressed a preference for a single
point of contact but was not as strong in his statements and has been reaching out
directly to the various NWS offices providing services to Minnesota.
Coordination with Federal Agencies
Real-time coordination among the Federal agencies supporting flood forecasting and
flood- fighting activities in the Red River of the North floods of 1997 was exceptionally
effective and was essential to the forecast process at NCRFC. The USGS was well aware of
the potential for record flooding and had pre-positioned additional staff to take field
observations of the event. These USGS field staff provided indispensable data to the NCRFC
-- not only the observations themselves, but also telephone conversations that helped to
convey unusual flow conditions. Likewise, the field engineers of the USACE provided useful
data and were in direct contact with the NCRFC.
The NCRFC could not confirm that it had copies of all the hydrologic
analyses and studies that might be useful to support forecast procedures
for all parts of its area of responsibility. NCRFC did have FEMA
flood insurance studies but was not confident that they were all
complete or up to date. NCRFC does generally get USACE project reports
for projects that are actually built but not for proposed projects
that are not built (as was the case for the Grand Forks USACE rating
curve noted in media reports and discussed above). As-built Federal
project reports include permanent levee descriptions, but temporary
levees and levee modifications and locations are often not known
to the RFC. The survey team believes it would be helpful to conduct
a post-event technical session on the forecasting situation and
all related technical matters among Federal agencies including FEMA,
USACE, USGS, and the NWS. This meeting should confirm, in part,
that the RFC has up-to-date information from these agencies. See
also Recommendation 1B above.
Other Federal agencies may have information in the form of flood studies, project
investigations, etc., that could serve as reference materials to aid the NCRFC.
17: Conduct a post-event technical session on the forecasting situation and all
related technical matters among Federal agencies including the FEMA, USACE, USGS, and the
NWS (see also recommendation 1B).
Coordination with Canadian Officials
Coordination with Canadian officials occurred primarily with Alf Warkentin of the Water
Resource Branch of the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources who felt coordination went
very well for this event (and in general).
Coordination with Canadian officials occurred primarily with the Water Resource Branch of
the Manitoba Department of Natural Resources who felt coordination went very well for this
event (and in general).
18: To continue the effectiveness of coordination with
Canada, appropriate Canadian officials should be invited to
the technical sessions referred to in Recommendations 1B and
Local Electronic Dissemination
NWS dissemination methods are diverse and are undergoing significant changes, and it
was apparent that the Grand Forks' staff has made an excellent effort to modernize their
local dissemination methods. Methods available to NWS customers in the NWSO FGF service
area included not only standard, nationally-supported NWS systems (Emergency Managers
Weather Information Network (EMWIN), NOAA Weather Radio (NWR), etc.) but also effective
local dissemination methods. NWSO FGF has implemented a hotline telephone, amateur radio
links, a media telephone line, Internet, and a dial-in bulletin board service that
emergency managers could use. At each news conference at NWSO FGF, the MIC described these
sources to users. Some of these customers may still need help in making most effective use
of these resources, but this can be dealt with effectively in the normal course of
interactions between the FGF staff (primarily the WCM and the SH) in follow-up visits with
NWS customers to ensure that they are able to access the information they need in the most
efficient, possible way.
Handling Media Queries
The River Forecast Center HIC and the Grand Forks MIC did not have a clear agreement on
how they would divide or refer media queries, at times creating frustration among
themselves and their staffs over how to cope with media calls. Although MICs, HICs, WCMs,
and SOOs receive media training in a managers' course at the NWS Training Center, Public
Affairs officers in each NWS region need to work with the regions, river forecast centers,
and local NWS field offices to develop more in-depth media training programs for field
office managers and staff forecasters at WFOs and RFCs. The goals of the training should
be to teach these staff members all of the necessary skills to efficiently and effectively
respond to media queries in a severe event and to ensure that they get their key messages
across in all interviews and public appearances as NWS spokespersons.
NWS field offices and river forecast centers should review their pre-season flood
outreach practices and strive to contact editors at newspapers, television, and radio
stations to identify key reporters who will most likely cover a potential flood event. If
possible, the NWS offices should spend some time in workshops/briefings to educate
reporters on NWS terminology and background and introduce them to key contacts within the
NWS. Efforts should also be made to solicit feedback on clarity, quantity, and quality of
information released by the NWS and use this information to improve and develop better
communication tools and techniques for the future.
NWS headquarters should work with the regions to more clearly define the roles of the
MIC, SH, and WCM in terms of who communicates flood-related information to the media
during a major event. The WCM in Grand Forks did not have an active role in responding to
flood-related media queries until after the flood struck the Grand Forks area, and the
demands of the media increased significantly. Considering the increasing strain of coping
with media queries during a major, protracted, flood event, using the WCM or other staff
to coordinate responses to media queries and interview requests may be a practical method
to balance the need to respond to media queries with other increased demands on the staff.
In short, there was no detailed media plan in place to help guide the MIC and HIC in
effectively coping with and systematically responding to the large number of media queries
on numerous subjects. In consultation with NWS headquarters Public Affairs, each NWS
regional public affairs officer should coordinate "flood media plans" between
NWS river forecast centers and forecast offices. Plans should identify responsibilities
for responding to media queries, identify key local, regional, and national media contacts
to receive all relevant NWS news releases, identify procedures for setting up a NWS media
center, or procedures for providing NWS representation to a joint governmental media
center, include copies of background information/fact sheets which can be used to quickly
educate "out-of-town" and national/international reporters on unique local
facts, outline a process for internally coordinating release of information, develop key
messages/talking points for use by all involved NWS personnel and offices, and outline a
decision tree for Public Affairs officers, MICs, and HICs to use in determining when they
will likely need to have a regional Public Affairs officer or another NWS employee with
media experience brought in to assist in managing media queries.
After the flooding around Grand Forks/East Grand Forks in mid-April, many news media
reports focused on the controversy over the NWS outlooks and flood crest forecasts, rather
than providing additional information about the ongoing flood event. Negative media
reports surrounding the NWS forecasts for flood crests in the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks
area had a significant impact on morale among personnel at both the Eastern North Dakota
office and the North Central River Forecast Center. The NWS is accustomed to providing
information on floods and other weather-related phenomenon to the media when the weather
itself is the story. NWS field office staffs are less comfortable with dealings with the
media when the NWS is the story. Media training and plans need to include dealing with
those events when the focus of the story is the NWS itself.
19:The NCRFC HIC and the FGF MIC spent many hours providing interviews and other
media responses, but they did not have a clear agreement on how they would manage media
queries. While NWS Public Affairs Officers provided guidance and assistance during the
flood event, there was no detailed media plan in place to help guide the MIC and HIC.
19A: Public Affairs officers in each NWS region should coordinate "flood
media plans" between NWS river forecast centers and forecast offices.
19B: Public Affairs officers in each NWS region should develop and conduct media
training sessions for NWS field offices.