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CHAPTER 4 PREPAREDNESS ACTIVITIES

4.1 INTRODUCTION

The effectiveness of actions taken by National Weather Service (NWS) offices during a stressful event such as this one is only as good as the proficiency of the office personnel in utilizing available technologies to monitor weather conditions, detect hazardous storms, and issue timely and accurate forecasts and warnings. The NWS's preparedness program goes beyond just the issuance of warnings to reduce the loss of life and property resulting from hazardous weather events. Preparedness programs consist of activities other than internal staff readiness. These activities include coordinating with public safety officials to ensure good communications; organizing and training observers; identifying areas prone to weather hazards such as river and flash flooding; and making the public and media more aware of hazardous weather through outreach and educational programs. Preparedness programs are only as good as the initiative taken by local NWS offices to conduct effective outreach and training efforts.

4.2 OFFICE PREPAREDNESS

A well-written and up-to-date Station Duty Manual (SDM), forecast reference guides, contact/coordination lists, detailed maps and realistic operational drills are some of the critical ingredients for internal preparedness. All office SDMs were up to date and provided the staff with specific information concerning office operations and actions during both river and flash flood events. All SDMs, along with NWS Form E-19s, depict flood-prone and flood inundation areas. Specific hydrologic drills had been accomplished by all offices to ensure all office personnel were trained to handle any type of flooding. Most drills had been completed within the past 6 months. Hydrologic service drills and staff training are usually conducted by the Service Hydrologist and Warning Coordination Meteorologist. Coordinated River Forecast Center hydrologic drills have not been attempted from impacted RFCs, but should be in the future. In most midwestern and eastern states, the preparedness efforts have focused on severe thunderstorm and tornado events. In recent years, however, many states have adopted an annual flood and flash flood awareness week or day. Also, with the many recent flood and flash flood deaths, the NWS has increased its outreach effort to educate the public on hydrologic dangers. All offices are staffed with WCMs who are responsible for ensuring all staff members are trained, drilled, and prepared in handling all types of hazardous weather events. The WCM also provides hazardous weather preparedness interface between the office and all communities within the office's County Warning and Forecast Area (CWFA) of responsibility. Annually, the WCM should visit all county and city emergency managers and discuss ways to mitigate hazardous weather events. County and statewide drills should also be organized and coordinated by the WCM with state and local emergency management officials and the media to ensure all communication systems work correctly and that appropriate safety actions are carried out by local communities, schools, hospitals, businesses, the media, etc. During the past year, numerous outreach activities and hazardous weather training were provided by Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) Weather Service Forecast Offices (NWSFO) in Baltimore, Maryland/Washington, DC; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Charleston, West Virginia; and by NEXRAD Weather Service Offices (NWSO) in Binghamton, New York; State College, Pennsylvania; and Wilmington, Ohio. All offices have an excellent line of communication with County Warning Area (CWA) media and emergency management and other public safety officials. During this flood event, several spotter groups were activated due to the possibility of severe weather Friday morning, but they were also used to report flood conditions and precipitation amounts. Since flooding is a prime concern by residents of central New York, the NWSO in Binghamton, New York, enlists volunteers to provide rainfall measurements using low- cost rain gages and to measure snowfall and water equivalent. Some of these personnel are part of the SKYWARN program and report their data through a CWA amateur radio computer packet system. Along with the automatic and cooperative observer reports, this group of volunteers provides an invaluable service of filling data-void areas with reliable information. This group performs another function during the winter by providing snowfall amounts to the Binghamton office. This information is being used as part of a much larger lake effect snow study program. Concerning public user response, most of the public heeded the warnings that were issued and evacuated their homes when requested to do so by public safety officials. However, several of the deaths related to the flooding were caused by failure to obey barricades that had been erected to close water-covered and impassable roads. In several situations, fire personnel were placed at risk saving people from swollen streams or rivers where citizens ignored the barricades. After several instances of the public not obeying the signs warning them of an impassable area, one community placed a police officer at a barricade to issue tickets. During his watch, he wrote over 50 tickets. In New York, Steuben and Chemung counties have joined together since 1981 to establish the Flood Warning Service (FWS) for the Chemung basin as part of a nonprofit corporation to coordinate the emergency Flood Warning resources of local, county, state, Federal, industry, and volunteer organizations that service the basin. The FWS is funded by local municipalities. The NWS has supported this program's development since its inception. The FWS has made major contributions toward improving weather and Flood Warning services including establishing an Automated Local Evaluation in Real Time (ALERT) gaging network, creating a flood operations center staffed by trained volunteers, establishing a self-sufficient volunteer training program, encouraging local municipalities to participate in the Community Rating System of the National Flood Insurance Program, implementing a School Radio Warning System to rapidly disseminate warnings to all schools, and upgrading equipment and sites to improve SKYWARN communications. All data and forecasts are coordinated and shared with NWSO Binghamton and other government agencies. During the flood, valuable information of flood conditions and rainfall was provided to NWSO Binghamton by the FWS. Graphic

4.3 SUSQUEHANNA RIVER BASIN COMMISSION

The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) is the governing water resources management agency established under a 100-year compact signed on December 24, 1970, by the Federal government and the States of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The Susquehanna River starts in Cooperstown, New York, and flows 444 miles to Havre de Grace, Maryland, where the river meets the Chesapeake Bay. In creating the SRBC, Congress and state legislatures formally recognized the water resources of the Susquehanna River basin as a regional asset vested with local, state, and national interests for which all the parties share responsibility. As the single Federal-Interstate water resources agency with basin wide authority, the goal of the SRBC is to effect coordinated planning, conservation, management, utilization, development, and control of basin water resources among government and private sectors. One of the roles of the SRBC is to manage and coordinate the Susquehanna River Basin Flood Forecast and Warning System, which is an enhancement of the NWS Flood Forecast and Warning System for the Susquehanna River basin. Numerous improvements to the existing Susquehanna River Basin Flood Forecast and Warning System were initiated after the devastating floods of Hurricanes Agnes in 1972 and Eloise in 1975. SRBC coordinates the inter-agency task group that maintains and updates the system's capabilities and annually seeks adequate funds on behalf of the NWS and the USGS who operate the system. Originally, the enhancement was funded as a Congressional add-on in fiscal year 1986, and was set to zero in the President's budget each subsequent budget cycle. After being restored by Congressional action for fiscal years 1987-1993, the fiscal year 1994 President's budget included partial funding for this initiative at $669K, about one-half of the overall requirement for full service operations. In fiscal year 1994, Congress restored funding up to $900K, and USGS and NWS operated the system at essentially the full service level by absorbing the additional cost. In fiscal year 1995, Congress restored funding to the level of $1,250K, and again the system was operated at the full service level. In fiscal year 1996, the President's budget included $669K for this purpose, again approximately half of the cost for full service operations. The House mark included additional support for a total of $1,250K, but the Senate provided a funding level of $669K which was adopted in the conference mark and is the basis for project planning by the participants. During the January floods, the SRBC provided enhanced coordination with users before, during, and after the event. Before the event started, the SRBC worked with local users and media to coordinate expected impacts from the forecasted event. During the event, the SRBC provided briefings to the media to update the public as to the impacts from the flooding. The SRBC also coordinated quite closely with industrial users and the City of Harrisburg to determine the impacts of NWS forecasts on the Susquehanna River basin and Harrisburg. The most important contribution from the SRBC came after the January floods when the SRBC worked very closely with local users, and state and Federal legislators, to review impacts of the flood, define impacts of the proposed budget cuts on operations, and provide recommendations to improve the enhanced Flood Forecast and Warning System. Specifically, the SRBC went directly to the Nation's Capital to build support for the Flood Forecast and Warning System. Back Return to Table of Contents


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