National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Initial efforts associated with this project date back to 2011, but the project formally “kicked-off” with full social science engagement in 2014. All social science research was conducted in partnership with NOAA's National Ocean Service/Coastal Services Center. Below is a summary of data collection efforts NWS has supported to date, along with links to associated reports from these efforts.

2014 Haz Simp Focus Groups

From May to July 2014, NWS sponsored 20 focus groups at four different geographical locations. The purpose of these focus groups was to gather stakeholder perspectives from across the United States on how users receive and perceive weather and water hazard information, including via the WWA system, and to solicit comments on how NWS could improve its hazard depiction strategy.

The focus groups were conducted in Minneapolis, Houston/Galveston, Baltimore/Washington and Anchorage. At each of the four locations, individual sessions were held for randomly selected members of the public, as well as groups comprised of emergency managers, broadcast meteorologists and other media professionals, and NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO) staff. There were over 300 participants in all groups combined across the four locations.

This report summarizes the results of the focus groups. Highlights include that there exists a spectrum of understanding of the current WWA system and a difference of opinion on how much change is needed to enhance the present system. There was considerable support among all stakeholder types and locations for using simple explanatory language to convey threats, impacts, and/or desired actions, although there was no agreement on what terms or phrases should be used.

2015 AMS Feedback on Initial Prototypes

At the 2015 American Meteorological Society (AMS) Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, the NWS sponsored the collection of feedback on initial prototypes designed as alternatives to the WWA system. The design for these prototypes was based on results from the 2014 Focus Groups and feedback was collected via an interactive survey.

Participants were randomly presented one of three prototypes on a tablet and were asked to rank words and colors based upon how they thought they linked to severity and urgency. Over 350 conference attendees completed the survey, and the results provided some insights on possible paths forward for the Haz Simp project.

Overall, respondents preferred options that suggested “more change” those that were closer to the status quo. However, the results were non-generalizable and did not validate any particular prototype/model that could serve as an alternative to the current WWA system.

2015 Case Study Survey

During the summer of 2015, NWS sponsored the creation and release of a survey targeting emergency managers, the broadcast/media community, the weather/water industry and other partners

Participants were asked to recall a particular hazardous weather event where NWS hazard messaging either did/did not work well from their perspective, or from the viewpoint of their community or audience. Alternatively, if participants were not able to recall a specific event, they were asked to provide input based on their general experience in using the WWA system during specific types of hazardous weather situations.

Below are two questions from the survey as examples:

  • Consider a particular hazardous weather event or a general experience with specific types of hazardous weather where the NWS messaging did (or did not) work well from your viewpoint or from the viewpoint of your community or audience.

  • How did you convey the information provided by watch, warning, and advisory products/statements?

There were 750 survey responses received, and a final report documenting the analysis of these responses can be read here.

Hazard Simplification Workshop

The NWS hosted a 3-day Hazard Simplification workshop with 105 emergency managers, broadcast meteorologists, and representatives from private industry and the social science community on October 27–29, 2015 at the NWS National Training Center in Kansas City, Missouri. The goals of the workshop were as follows:

  • To develop a set of language-based prototypes that could be tested to replace some or all of the WWA system (Days 1-2 of the workshop).
  • To suggest ideas for WWA enhancements that could clarify/simplify NWS hazard messages, and that could be implemented in the short-term (Day 3 of the workshop).

The results of the workshop are summarized here. While the workshop’s charge was for participants to consider possible new language for the current WWA system, the participants suggested more than just language changes. For example, feedback included suggestions to venture into conceptual, operational, design, delivery and verification aspects of a warning system.

The prototypes created by the workshop participants echoed a theme from the original focus groups in that a spectrum of change was recommended. The spectrum ranged from suggestions to make minor formatting changes and alternatives for the “Advisory” term to a complete system revamp. For example, some participants recommended eliminating all WWA terms by using colors, tiers, impact messaging, and/or actionable phrases.

In the short-term, a clear majority of the participants favored consolidating and/or eliminating some hazard message headlines to help mitigate confusion. Additionally, there were many suggestions to improve product formatting by including such features as shortening hazard messages, enhancing message consistency, and adjusting formats to include bullets, colors and boldface text.