Newswise — NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) Office of Science and Technology will provide $400,000 to the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) to develop and evaluate technologies that will help the emergency management community prepare for and respond to weather events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards and floods.

The collaboration, called Weather for Emergency Management (WxEM), will examine how weather information is assimilated and used within the complex network of communications and decision making that occurs during emergencies. A key goal of the project is to help the emergency management community more effectively use weather information in their planning and in real-time decision-making. The project will take advantage of emerging technologies to improve information flow, such as GIS-enabled hand-held devices and smart phones and Web-based social media, as well as RENCI’s expertise in information visualization, geo-referenced visualization, software development and device engineering.

“In times of rapidly changing, dangerous weather the emergency management community needs critical information that helps them understand the situation and how to manage its impacts,” said Ken Galluppi, RENCI’s director of disaster and environmental projects. “Decision support tools help decision makers understand the situation as it evolves so they can respond appropriately, hopefully minimizing the impact on people and property.’’

Galluppi added that decision support technologies—ones that help users keep track of information, spot trends and base their decisions on the latest information—emerge far more quickly than government agencies can assess and adopt them. Because the National Weather Service fills a critical public safety role, it wants to get ahead of the technology curve. Galluppi said the new WxEM will help by rapidly developing prototype technologies designed to improve situational understanding and facilitate communication of NWS weather information to emergency personnel spread across many locations and with different levels of knowledge.

The project launched in July with a kickoff meeting at RENCI headquarters in Chapel Hill involving partners from NOAA, RENCI, and East Carolina University (ECU). ECU and RENCI researchers will study the culture of the emergency management community, how weather information flows and decisions are made, and which technical innovations are likely to improve communications and the overall effectiveness of emergency response. This work will help researchers understand what kinds of technologies are likely to be effective emergency response decision support tools and give them ideas for improving existing tools.

As the project progresses, RENCI hardware and software experts plan to develop new prototype tools and evaluate them for use in emergency operations. The decision support assessment process will draw on what researchers learn about decision making, information flow and technology adoption to put new technologies into practice quickly.

“Keeping pace with technological changes today, and rapidly integrating them into operations is becoming ever more challenging,” said Don Berchoff, director of the NWS Office of Science and Technology. “RENCI can help us evaluate new technologies, and given its connection to the emergency management community, is a great fit to help the National Weather Service move ahead with improving decision support services in this critical area. The bottom line is equipping our forecasters and emergency personnel with the best decision support tools which will enable informed decisions that keep our communities safe.”

The current NWS funding covers the fiscal year that started July 1. The NWS has an option to expand the project next year if this year is successful and if funding is available.

About RENCIRENCI develops and deploys advanced cyber technologies to enable research discoveries and practical innovations. RENCI partners with researchers, policy makers, and technology leaders to engage and solve the challenging problems that affect North Carolina, our nation and the world. The institute was launched in 2004 as a collaborative effort involving the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and North Carolina State University.

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