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News Release 16-136

Science's growing role in emergency response

Partnership between agencies works to improve content and distribution of storm warnings

Pairing improved forecasting with more effective weather warnings is critical for NOAA.

Pairing improved forecasting with more effective weather warnings is critical for NOAA.

October 27, 2016

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Four years ago, communities across the East Coast faced Superstorm Sandy, a weather system that claimed more than 70 lives in the United States and caused $65 billion in damages. Earlier this month, Hurricane Matthew devastated Haiti, killing more than a thousand people before turning north to the United States, where it caused another 43 deaths.

In an effort to minimize the loss of life in future events, a new partnership between the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) aims to provide the necessary tools to ensure people respond appropriately to dangerous weather systems. A key part of this work involves understanding how people behave when hazards approach, so emergency services can improve the content and distribution of storm warnings and other communications.

"This collaboration plays to the strengths of each agency. By reviewing a set of exciting new research studies of disaster response and selecting those that show great promise to be turned into tools, NSF and NOAA are working to translate the best new science into meaningful change for the public," said Bob O'Connor, a program manager with NSF's Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences Directorate.

Scientific and computing advances have improved forecasting in recent years, advances that have helped expand the science of prediction, preparedness and response.

"Going beyond the science of the forecast and understanding how weather warnings are perceived and how the perception may or may not lead to action is critically important to NOAA as it is our goal not just to predict the weather, but to keep people safe," said John Cortinas, director of the NOAA Office of Weather and Air Quality.

NSF funds basic research on disaster response and preparedness. NOAA, looking to develop useable applications from basic research, will supplement three NSF research projects in order to convert the findings from research on public response to disaster warnings into tools that it and other weather reporting entities can use.

This work is part of an ongoing partnership between NSF and NOAA that has helped bring new science to NOAA forecasters. The partnership also serves as a model to shorten the path from the best basic science to usable tools.

The three awards, which are supporting five NSF-funded scientists, include:

Collaborative Research: Online Hazard Communication in the Terse Regime

Principal Investigators: Jeannette Sutton, University of Kentucky; Carter Butts, University of California-Irvine.

Researchers will use what they have learned about how weather-related risks are communicated through social media to create a tool that can be used by National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters to improve the understanding and reach of their storm-related messages.

Improving Public Response to Weather Warnings

Principal Investigator: Susan Joslyn, the University of Washington.

Researchers will build on previous work that examines how forecast uncertainty can sometimes muddy the waters for people making real-world decisions about risk. This project will result in a tool for NWS forecasters to use when working with local emergency management to make sure uncertainties are conveyed in a way that helps people take appropriate action.

Next Generation, Resilient Warning Systems for Tornadoes and Flash Floods

Principal Investigators: Brenda Philips, University of Massachusetts Amherst; Joseph Trainor, University of Delaware.

Researchers will build on previous work that incorporates atmospheric data and human response data to understand public actions in extreme weather events. Scientists will analyze information about NOAA's products and services and make recommendations about steps NOAA can take to collect enough high-quality, relevant data to evaluate and improve their forecast warning systems over time.


Media Contacts
Robert J. Margetta, NSF, (703) 292-2663, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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