ISSUES HIGHLIGHTED BY THE EVENT
This event pointed to several aspects of the NWS modernization
of its weather services where the survey team felt the NWS was
vulnerable, risking degradation of these services. These fall
into three general areas: (1) the transition to a modernized state,
(2) staffing--both during transition and after, and (3) several
aspects of the NWS modernization and associated restructuring.
Two aspects of the transition to a modernized state clearly
pose potential pitfalls for the NWS. First and foremost is the
amount of off-site training that is required during the transition.
Second is the increased length of the transition period resulting
from budgetary constraints and the inability of the NWS and its
contractors to deliver significantly improved technology to its
field offices according to earlier projections.
The substantial requirement to train its work force often leaves
field offices with staffing situations that threaten their ability
to efficiently perform their prime mission. Such was the case
in both NWSFOs and the RFC that were part of this survey. In each
case, key personnel were away from the office attending in-residence
training courses for all or a portion of the event. This, coupled
with the fact the remaining staff at these offices included a
notable number of new, inexperienced people, posed a high potential
for unacceptable service due to staff overload during the disaster.
This threat was averted in this event because of the extreme dedication
and extra effort of the personnel at the offices involved during
the disaster. Nevertheless, the risk is very real while the NWS
undergoes a protracted transition period.
FINDING 3-1: Key members of the staffs of both NWSFOs and
the RFC were attending training away from their home offices
during this event.
RECOMMENDATION 3-1: Especially during transition, when we
have extensive training requirements which are not a luxury,
we must have adequate staff to cover operations.
In addition to staffing concerns, the survey team found several
potentially vulnerable aspects of hardware configurations being
implemented during the extended NWS transition period. While the
five WSR-88Ds accepted by the Government in this area were operational
throughout the event, use of the data from the radars was notably
constrained. For instance, the SERFC had no way to directly input
the WSR-88D precipitation estimates into its hydrologic models.
Additionally, none of the spin-down WSOs with county warning responsibility
had any access to WSR-88D data (other than what was verbally communicated
secondhand or via text products). Due to staffing limitations,
one NWSFO and the SERFC chose not to dedicate someone to monitor
the WSR-88D throughout the event. Rather, they chose to make note
of the WSR-88D data on an ad hoc basis. These factors
alone could have (but did not in this case) severely limited the
ability of the field offices to determine the magnitude of the
event at the earliest possible time.
FINDING 3-2: One NWSFO and the RFC affected by Alberto did not
have sufficient human resources, and the other NWSFO did not have
sufficient communications resources, to fully utilize data from
the WSR-88Ds in the area. None of the WSOs with warning responsibilities
had any access to WSR-88D data. In addition, the RFC was unable
to process the precipitation data from the WSR-88Ds so they could
be input to the hydrologic models.
RECOMMENDATION 3-2: The NWS must recognize that during the
transition it is not able to fully utilize the WSR-88D and should
continue to take steps to accelerate other portions of the modernization
and make maximum use of technology components which are mature
enough to warrant deployment.
There is another area where the NWS seems to be very vulnerable
during transition and into modernization: the amount of time available
for the WCMs to coordinate with their present and future emergency
management (and other action agency) officials. Due to operational
shift workload requirements that result from staff shortages (because
of training requirements), WCMs often do not have adequate time
available to coordinate with their users. The survey team found
this to be the case during its study.
FINDING 3-3: The operational shift and training requirements,
coupled with a large geographic area of responsibility, limited
the opportunity for the WCMs to interact with local users. Consequently,
the WCMs did not thoroughly coordinate with all the users in their
RECOMMENDATION 3-3: The NWS needs to develop an efficient
strategy to maximize the efficiency of the collective efforts
of the WCMs and other staff members. A WCM team approach should
be considered whereby other WFO (and occasionally RFC) staff
members are designated as liaisons with the state and local
agencies involved in such activities as emergency management,
water resources, and public safety.
One aspect of current NWS operations, which becomes a greater
problem during transition, is the flow of information from NWS
field offices in one state to emergency managers in an adjoining
state. Some local emergency managers with adequate funding and
personnel resources subscribe to NWWS and receive hard copies
of NWS products. However, due to the large number of products
issued over NWWS by the NWS offices outside of their home states,
they generally chose to receive only those products issued by
NWS offices in their own states. For example, even though products
were issued, the survey team found that the Houston County, Alabama,
emergency managers lacked river forecast and warning information
because they chose not to receive flood products issued by WSO
Columbus (Georgia) and NWSFO Atlanta (Georgia) even though the
products covered Houston County. Universal Generic Codes (UGC)
enable users to be more selective in the products they receive.
Flash Flood Warnings currently use the UGC codes, but River Statements
(RVS), Flood Statements (FLS), and Flood Warnings (FLW) do not.
UGC will be included in RVS, FLS, and FLW once they are produced
by the AWIPS River Product Formatter.
FINDING 3-4: At least one member of the emergency management community
chose not to be burdened with the numerous products sent via NWWS
for a neighboring state. As a result, critical forecasts and warnings
for that county were not received. NWWS users want to efficiently
receive weather information that pertains only to their jurisdictions.
RECOMMENDATION 3-4: Users need the ability on NWWS to parse
only those hydrologic products that apply to their areas of
responsibility, e.g., a given county. The NWS should require
the use of generic codes on all NWS public hydrologic products
until AWIPS is implemented, and the WCMs should work with the
users to insure that all necessary products are being received.
Attempts were made to supplement field office staffs during
the disaster with personnel from other field offices. At the SERFC,
an additional hydrologist was brought in from the West Gulf RFC.
At WSO Pensacola (Florida), the previous MIC, who had transferred
to WSO Mobile (Alabama), was called back to help out. While this
approach may seem laudable, its practicality as a mainstay of
staffing plans is questionable. To provide an effective supplement,
personnel sent to offices during an emergency must be capable
of providing specific hydrometeorological expertise for the geographic
area of concern. The nature of the science of hydrology and, to
a limited extent, the science of meteorology requires knowledge
of the area. Without such knowledge, personnel sent during emergencies
often are little help to the receiving office. In fact, time spent
getting these individuals to a point where they can contribute
to ongoing operations reduces the time available to the on-site
staff to perform their jobs. As a result of this dilemma, field
offices are often reluctant to accept off-site assistance. In
addition, there seems to be an unspoken philosophy that accepting
such assistance is a reflection on the competence of the office
in question. The net result is that field offices tend to "make
do" with the staff available during disasters. This often leads
to field office staffs becoming overwhelmed in times of crises.
There was some evidence that this occurred during the disaster
caused by Alberto.
FINDING 3-5: The NWS offices affected by Alberto were stressed
to provide enough human resources during the disaster to continuously
utilize all information the WSR-88Ds had to offer. It would
have been virtually impossible for these offices to have provided
the critical services they did if they were staffed with any
RECOMMENDATION 3-5: The NWS should reassess its core-level
staffing requirements (going from five lead forecasters and
five journeyman forecasters down to four lead forecasters and
four journeyman forecasters), especially for offices with multiple
An area of vulnerability was the amount of time that Service
Hydrologists (SH) have to develop, transfer, and maintain a high
level of hydrologic expertise at current and future NWS offices.
The survey team found that there are situations where the SHs
were unable to adequately address some of the following duties:
(1) hydrologic training of on-site and off-site personnel, (2)
frequent and regular coordination visits to all county-level management
in their present and future CWAs, (3) station information (i.e.,
E-19) data collection activities, (4) personal professional development
(hydrologic and meteorological), and (5) frequent and regular
visits to the RFC to keep current on RFC operations.
The size of the present and future hydrologic service areas
and hydrologic program training and development responsibilities
of each SH are so extensive that the SHs may not be able to fully
address important hydrologic program management functions and
FINDING 3-6: The SH workload at the offices surveyed was quite
extensive and typical of any WFO. Despite the good effort put
forth by the SHs, it was apparent that timely completion of
important hydrology-related duties could not always be accomplished.
This will be compounded in the future for SHs who support multiple
hydrologic service areas.
RECOMMENDATION 3-6: The NWS should reassess its staffing philosophy
for field offices; each WFO should have a resident SH.
FINDING 3-7: Staffing levels at the NWSFOs surveyed by the
team, coupled with operational workloads and off-station training
requirements, made it virtually impossible for a sufficient
number of hydrologic training shifts to be made available for
each forecaster to become totally competent in the station hydrology
RECOMMENDATION 3-7: The NWS should reexamine WFO staffing
levels and procedures for developing adequate on-station hydrologic
training to avoid difficulties during critical hydrologic events.
This should include an adequate number of nonoperational shifts
for each meteorologist to be trained to handle hydrologic crises
at all times. In addition, MICs should adhere to the guidance
that SHs work no more than 20 percent of their time on forecast
The consolidation of WSFOs and WSOs into the future WFOs (currently
300+ offices down to 115+ offices) poses significant problems
for the present-day and future WCMs. These problems include (1)
the number of counties in their areas of responsibility, (2) the
geographic size of the CWA, (3) the number of responsible county
and local officials, (4) the geographic distance between them
and the WFOs, and (5) that the CWA may include multiple states.
FINDING 3-8: The personal contacts between the local EMA officials
and WSO staffs contributed to their satisfaction with the NWS
services. When these offices spin down, the responsibility switches
to a single WCM.
RECOMMENDATION 3-8: A WCM team approach should be considered
with other WFO staff members (e.g., the SH) interacting with
3.2.1 EXPANDING THE USE OF IMPROVED COMMUNICATION
New demands for information are placed on the NWS due to increasing
and changing societal vulnerability to weather, growing awareness
of this vulnerability, and technological advances, especially
in computing and communications. These demands, and the changes
brought about by the ongoing NWS restructuring, continue to impact
and influence both the current operations and planning for future
operations of the NWS.
In this event, as is typical in current NWS operations, at least
a portion of the dissemination of forecasts and services was conducted
over the telephone, one-on-one with users/customers. The primary
methods of dissemination continue to be the NWWS and the NWR.
Many customers place a high value on the personalized service
provided by phone contact, and it contributes greatly to the perception
of high-quality services provided by the NWS. One challenge of
the modernized NWS will be to continue, and to increase, the level
of service and customer satisfaction with that service while decreasing
the number of individual contacts required.
FINDING 3-9: One-on-one phone contacts between the NWS and
all types of users are frequently associated with the user's
satisfaction with the service provided by the NWS. However,
the number of individual phone calls which can and should be
made is limited. An additional drawback for the users who rely
on phone contacts is that they have to verbally repeat, dictate,
or retype (or some combination) the information in order for
it to be shared.
RECOMMENDATION 3-9: The NWS must be more sophisticated in
its use of communication and dissemination technologies. For
example, the NWS should take advantage of aspects of the Information
Superhighway (e.g., Internet) to coordinate with the public
and other Federal, state, and local agencies as much as possible.
Through increased electronic dissemination of NWS products,
the NWS staff's time is more effectively used by allowing direct
communication with many more users/agencies. Additionally, users/agencies
getting information directly from the NWS can then further distribute
it automatically without having to repeat, dictate, or retype
Another approach is to integrate into routine NWS field operations
a range of communications tools (e.g., satellite broadcast,
packet radio, teleconferencing) in order to match the ever-increasing
technical capabilities of the NWS' many customers.
3.2.2 IMPROVED COORDINATION BETWEEN NWS AND
Upon arrival in the disaster area,
FEMA quickly established elaborate satellite television communications
to continually broadcast important information to its personnel
in the field, as well as FEMA officials in Washington, D.C. Included
in the string of information were updates on current weather and
FINDING 3-10: Agencies, like FEMA, have made and continue
to make great advances in their abilities to effectively communicate
with their users; however, the NWS is not fully utilizing the
recent advances in information technologies.
RECOMMENDATION 3-10: NWS should create national capabilities
that parallel the capabilities of FEMA for special emergency
response and disaster relief operations. This should be coordinated
by the regional or national NWS offices, as appropriate for
the magnitude of the event. For example, the NWS should institutionalize
the capability to provide support for satellite feeds coordinated
by FEMA which are then made available to other Federal and state
government agencies and locally on cable television.
A possible mechanism for such support would be one (or more)
centrally located national media center(s) that would have access
to equipment (e.g., a communications uplink; large-screen video
monitors capable of depicting NEXRAD, AFOS, AWIPS data and products;
etc.). In addition, personnel would be available to be rapidly
deployed to NWS offices involved in major meteorological and/or
The NWS should also give more emphasis to development of all-hazard
telecommunications capability for NWR. A FEMA representative was
concerned about NWS' capability/staffing implications to handle
FEMA information on "all-hazards" NWR. The essence of this issue
is whether NWS has sufficient ability/staffing to support "all-hazards"
operation of NWR since post-disaster information provided by FEMA
is very high-volume traffic.
FINDING 3-11: The limited ability of the NWS to interact with
FEMA raised the concern that the NWS may not be able to synchronize
with FEMA and effectively operate an "all hazards" NWR.
RECOMMENDATION 3-11: The NWS must be careful not to commit
to operating an "all-hazards" NWR without considering issues,
such as staffing and length of the NWR program cycle.
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