Embedding meteorologists and hydrologists in emergency operations

Weather conditions affect a variety of factors in emergency management, from disruptions in supply chain logistics and travel to how a wildfire can abruptly shift at any given time. Because of the potential changes that meteorological conditions create before, during, and after an incident, meteorologists and emergency managers must maintain strong partnerships in all four phases of emergency management: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Emergency managers today know to contact the Office of the National Weather Service (NWS) for weather and water information that supports emergency management activities. however, this was not always the case. Past weather-related disasters have pushed the integration of weather forecasting with emergency management activities to protect both the public and first responders. Significant progress has been made over the past decade in standardizing the process of embedding meteorologists and hydrologists in Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and Operations Control Centers (ICPs). Today, this integration offers both in-person and virtual forecasting capabilities and numerous modes of communication to relay weather information in support of disaster preparedness and recovery operations.

The increase in collaboration and integration is primarily attributed to the National Weather Service’s initiative to build and maintain a cadre of specialists who are on call at all times.1While this integration and collaboration wasn’t always the norm, lessons learned after the fact began to show how embedding meteorologists in EOCs could have significantly improved the outcome of disasters years before it became routine. For example, during a concert at the Indiana State Fair in August 2011, strong blowing winds caused the stage to collapse, killing seven people and injuring fifty-eight others. Although a ten-minute severe storm had been announced, emergency management did not evacuate the venue.2 Had the emergency managers maintained close contact with a local or designated meteorologist before and during the busy event, a more informed decision could have been made, with very different outcomes if an evacuation call had been made. Overall, meteorological events present many types of hazards, from routine ones like rain, wind, heat or cold, to extreme tornadoes, hurricanes and hail. These types of weather events amplify the impact of other events, whether natural (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, landslides), technological (power outages, dam failures, industrial accidents), or man-made (acts of terrorism, cyberattacks, or civil unrest). Timely weather forecast information remains critical for all emergency response operations, regardless of the type of event, as weather can exacerbate and amplify impacts or endanger survivors and responders. The Emergency Operations Center (EOC) acts as a coordination platform that supports working with meteorologists to get this timely information.

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