FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Meredith Kelly
May 22, 2013 (202) 224-7433
SCHUMER: NEW REPORT REVEALS COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS LEADING UP TO SANDY – SENATOR URGES FEDS TO ESTABLISH ONLINE CENTRAL CLEARINGHOUSE FOR ALL STORM RELATED INFORMATION
Post-Sandy Report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Demonstrates Many Successes But Also Communications Failures – Residents and Municipalities Had Difficulty Accessing Up-To-Date Weather and Flood Information
Central Clearinghouse, Located At Storm.gov, and Corresponding Mobile App Would Aggregate and Clarify Rapidly Changing Weather Developments; Make them Clear and Accessible to Emergency Managers, Media Outlets, and Impacted Residents
Schumer: Easy-To-Access Website and App Will Keep Important Personnel and Residents In the Know, Which Will Protect Communities from Unnecessary Danger and Save Lives
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the creation of an online central clearinghouse and corresponding mobile application for storm related information to be used in the weeks, days and hours before an expected major storm strikes. Schumer’s request comes after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a post-Sandy service assessment, that recognized a host of problems with the way information about the storm was reported to the public. Schumer urged the feds to implement the report’s recommendation for the creation of “storm.gov,” a user-friendly website and mobile app that would be a single authority for extreme weather warnings, including tropical storms, hurricanes, and other dangerous weather patterns. Schumer noted that many residents and emergency managers had difficulty accessing up-to-date information during Sandy, and were sometimes provided with contradicting information regarding the storm’s categorization and strength and the size and danger of storm surges.
Overall, Schumer is urging NOAA and National Weather Service to simplify its communications system in an easy-to-use format with up-to-date federal information ready for public consumption. Schumer pointed to the federal dollars the NOAA received as a part of the Sandy Supplemental Fund as a key funding stream for improvements in weather prediction technology.
“There simply cannot be confusion about which agency’s website is the go-to source during extreme weather, that’s why I’m urging them to implement ‘storm.gov,’ a one-stop source of accurate information for emergency personnel, the media, and impacted residents,” said Schumer. “I commend the work the National Weather Service and NOAA did in the days leading up to Superstorm Sandy, but their own report clearly indicates we have room for improvement when it comes to communication and keeping everyone in the know during these dangerous storms.”
The NOAA report, called Hurricane /Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy and released in May 2013, found that the unique evolution of Superstorm Sandy from a Category 3 hurricane in the Caribbean to an intense post-tropical cyclone hours before landfall resulted in the decision to have the local NWS offices issue warnings rather than the National Hurricane Center (NHC). According to the report, this decision led to confusion among emergency managers and local reporters as to which of the agency’s websites had the most up-to-date information. For example, the NHC’s highly trafficked website did not report local coastal flood and high wind warnings during Sandy, and many residents were not able to accurately identify what type of “watch” or “warning” their community was under. Many managers complained that it required “too many clicks” to find the most up-to-date information on the storm’s development. Ultimately, individuals and emergency managers planning evacuations relied on the wrong website in some cases. Schumer noted that although the NWS followed through with their responsibilities to forecast and update the public, there simply should not be confusion about where to get the most accurate information during extreme weather events.
In the process of centralizing the sources of information under storm.gov, Schumer recommended the NOAA simplify the terms they use to give warnings to the media and the public. The current menu of “warnings” and “watches” often means little to impacted residents who need concrete counsel on whether they are safe to stay in their homes or need to evacuate. Schumer argued that this is an opportunity to improve notification on all fronts: to simplify, streamline, centralize, and digitize the information residents rely on during extreme and dangerous weather events.
The Sandy Supplemental Disaster Fund provides funding to update NOAA’s technological capabilities to predict and map the storm surge. So Schumer is asking NOAA to use these funds for a few necessary upgrades. Specifically, Schumer recommends (1) developing redundancies in web services in advance of 2013 hurricane season, so that in the event of a power failure at NWS, important information remains online, (2) updating and reconfiguring the storm surge modeling in order to give surge predictions to local emergency managers well in advance of an expected storm, and (3) implementing explicit storm surge graphics and high-resolution mapping tools to illustrate the impact of the storm surge. Along with storm.gov, these upgrades will greatly improve storm readiness and rapid response procedures.
A copy of Schumer’s letter to Acting Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan appears below:
Dear NOAA Acting Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan,
I write to urge that you consider implementing recommendations recently issued by the agency’s Service Assessment entitled Hurricane /Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy, October 22-29, 2012. In particular, I would ask that you explore the creation of a new “storm.gov” web portal and unique smart phone application that would aggregate and clarify rapidly changing weather developments for emergency managers, media outlets, and impacted residents in the lead-up to a major hurricane or tropical storm event.
First and foremost, I would like to commend your agency and the professionals in National Weather Service (NWS) offices across the country for their public service and performance during one of the most devastating storms in American history. As the assessment noted, the NWS performed well in forecasting the impacts and more than 90 percent of coastal residents surveyed after the storm reported that they would have rated the storm as being “dangerous.” However, the assessment also recognized a host of problems with the dissemination of information and a menu of options to improve its delivery during the next major event.
As the report found, the unique evolution of Sandy from a Category 3 hurricane in the Caribbean to an intense post-tropical cyclone hours before landfall posed several operational challenges to your agency. Leading up to the storm, a final decision was made for the local NWS offices to issue warnings as opposed to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), which led to confusion among emergency managers and local reporters as to which of the agency’s websites had the most up-to-date information. For example, the report found that NHC’s highly trafficked website lacked locally-based coastal flood and high wind warnings. It also found in surveys that residents along the coast differed in their understanding of what type of watches – hurricane versus tropical – their community was under and users of NWS’s web products found it very difficult to navigate the various informational sites associated with the storm’s activity. I would concur with the report’s finding that the NWS needs to evaluate its current menu of “warnings and watches” and simplify it for local emergency personnel, media outlets, and residents, which is why I support the following recommendations, specifically:
· The NWS should provide the media with information that includes a concise overview of storm impacts, ready for public consumption as written.
· The NWS should ensure its web pages are easily accessible by smart phone and tablet technologies and develop new mobile applications
Other findings are equally as important to note. According to the assessment, on October 30, 2012, all NWS Eastern region offices experienced an Internet outage, limiting the functionality of the website. Moreover, the assessment concluded that the most important improvement NWS could make would be to re-configure its storm surge modeling to better prepare emergency managers and residents for potential wave action. Many respondents to the assessment, including the Nassau County OEM, expressed the need for a separate storm surge product decoupled from wind information. Specifically, I would support these potentially life-saving recommendations:
· The NWS needs to develop redundancies in web services prior to the 2013 hurricane season to ensure back-up in case of equipment failure
· The NWS should provide storm surge predictions to local emergency managers 48 hours in advance of a storm
· The NWS should implement explicit storm surge graphics and high-resolution mapping tools that clearly illustrate the impacts of storm surge by the 2014 hurricane season
In conclusion, I strongly believe that the major takeaway from this assessment is that your agency should try to simplify, streamline, and digitize the very complex sets of data related to a storm so that the public can be better informed to life-threatening risks. While I appreciate that this is not a simple task, I hope that working with the Congress and other agencies of the federal government, we can accomplish this mission together.
Charles E. Schumer