Of the many thoughts and suggestions raised in the preceding chapters, the Committee highlights the following findings and recommendations:
- While efforts to advance meteorological research and numerical weather prediction must continue, realizing the greatest return on investment from such efforts requires fully engaging the social and behavioral sciences (SBS)—both to expand the frontiers of knowledge within social and behavioral science disciplines, and to foster more extensive application of these sciences across the weather enterprise.
- SBS research offers great potential not just for improving communications of hazardous weather warnings, but also for improving preparedness and mitigation for weather risks, for hazard monitoring, assessment, and forecasting processes, for emergency management and response, and for long-term recovery efforts.
- The past few decades have seen a variety of innovative research projects and activities bring social and behavioral sciences within the weather enterprise; these efforts have made demonstrable contributions both to the social and behavioral sciences and to meteorology. However, the accumulation of knowledge has been hampered by the relatively small scale, intermittency, and inconsistency of investment in these sorts of efforts.
- As current research activities demonstrate, exciting opportunities exist for advancing weather-related research that addresses important societal needs, both within the social and behavioral sciences, and across social and physical sciences. A variety of research advances are providing transformative new opportunities for expanding these contributions to the weather enterprise. For instance, new tools and models are making it possible to collect, analyze, interpret, and apply data and information both at smaller scales—for example, eye-tracking of the use of visual information—and at larger scales—for
example, through social media analyses of the spread and influence of information across social networks, and the application of big data, data analytics and cognitive computing to this context.
- Existing federal agency data collection activities by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could, with modest additions and greater interagency coordination, significantly expand our understanding of the social context of hazardous weather.
- Meteorologists and others in the weather enterprise could benefit from a more realistic understanding of the diverse disciplines, theories, and research methodologies used within the social and behavioral sciences; of the time and resources needed for robust SBS research; and of the inherent limitations in providing simple, universally applicable answers to complex social science questions.
- Organizations across the weather enterprise—including several federal agencies, private-sector weather companies, academic institutions, and professional societies—have shared motivations for actively contributing to the integration of SBS within the weather enterprise, through a variety of practical roles that are discussed herein.
- Numerous previous reports going back many years have highlighted needs and challenges similar to those noted here—yet many of the same challenges remain today. Recent history demonstrates that overcoming these challenges and making progress is not idea limited, but rather, is resource limited.
Social and behavioral scientific research focused on weather applications is advancing during a time of accelerating social and technological change, both within the weather enterprise and across society at large. In this context, the Committee offers a broad-based framework for action, which leverages leadership to build awareness and demand for increased capacity, and identifies key knowledge gaps to target with that increased capacity. The Committee advocates that all sectors of the weather attend to these three main areas:
Invest in Leadership to Build Awareness
Effectively integrating social and behavioral sciences into organizations that have historically been rooted in the physical sciences requires leadership at the highest levels.
Across the weather enterprise, leaders themselves need to invest time in understanding and in spreading awareness to key constituencies and stakeholders about the many ways that social and behavioral sciences can help advance their organization’s goals related to preparedness and mitigation for weather hazards; hazard monitoring, assessment, and forecasting processes; emergency management and response; and long-term recovery. To aid these efforts, federal agencies, private companies, and leading academic programs within the weather enterprise need to augment their leadership teams to include executives and managers with strong and diverse social science backgrounds.
Recommendation: Leaders of the weather enterprise should take steps to accelerate this paradigm shift by underscoring the importance of social and behavioral science (SBS) contributions in fulfilling their organizational missions and achieving operational and research goals, bringing SBS expertise into their leadership teams, and establishing relevant policies and goals to effect necessary organizational changes.
Build Capacity Throughout the Weather Enterprise
Building SBS research capacity is an enterprise-wide concern and responsibility. However, NOAA will need to play a central role in driving forward this research in order to achieve the agency’s goals of improving the nation’s weather readiness. Building capacity to support and implement SBS research depends on more sustained funding and increased intellectual resources (i.e., professional staff trained and experienced in SBS research and its effective application). Several possible mechanisms for NOAA to advance SBS capacity are described in this report, such as innovative public–private partnerships for interdisciplinary weather research, the development of an SBS-focused NOAA Cooperative Institute, or creation of SBS-focused programs within existing Cooperative Institutes. New sustained efforts by other key federal agencies, in particular the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), will also be critical for expanding capacity to support research and operations at the SBS-weather interface.
Just as important as the mechanisms for supporting research are the research assessment and agenda-setting activities, community-building programs, and information sharing venues that help build a professional community working at the SBS-weather interface. Some existing platforms for sustained dialogue and strategic planning among public-sector, private-sector, and academic representatives could provide an effective base for SBS-related strategic planning as well. Interagency cooperation
and collaboration could be pursued through mechanisms the federal government currently employs, such as interagency working groups or university-based research centers supported by multiple agencies.
Targeted training programs can help researchers from the social, physical, and engineering sciences better understand each other’s diversity of research methodologies, and capacities and limitations. Viable approaches include interdisciplinary or joint degree programs, training at multi- or transdisciplinary centers in team science, building on NOAA’s currently developing SBS training efforts, and utilizing existing training platforms such as FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute, and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) COMET program.
Recommendation: Federal agencies and private-sector weather companies should, together with leading social and behavioral science (SBS) scholars with diverse expertise, immediately begin a planning process to identify specific investments and activities that collectively advance research at the SBS-weather interface. This planning process should also address critical supporting activities for research assessment, agenda setting, community building, and information sharing, and the development of methods to collectively track funding support for this suite of research activities at the SBS-weather interface.
In addition, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration should build more sustainable institutional capacity for research and operations at the SBS-weather interface and should advance cooperative planning to expand SBS research among other federal agencies that play critical roles in weather-related research operations. In particular, this should include leadership from:
- The National Science Foundation for a strong standing program that supports interdisciplinary research at the SBS-weather interface;
- The Federal Highway Administration for research related to weather impacts on driver choices and behaviors; and
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency for research on the social and human factors that affect weather readiness, including decisions and actions by individuals, communities and emergency management to prepare for, prevent, respond to, mitigate, and recover from weather hazards.
All parties in the weather enterprise should continue to develop and implement training programs for current and next generation workforces in order to expand capacity for SBS-weather research and applications in the weather enterprise.
Focus on Critical Knowledge Gaps
Building scientific understanding of weather-related actions, behaviors, and decisions will require investing wisely in research that addresses specific knowledge gaps and will help accelerate the maturation of the field overall. The Committee identified a series of key near-term research questions that span the different stages of weather communication and decision support shown in Figure S.1. The research questions, which are detailed in this report, can be broadly grouped into the following topical areas listed below.
Recommendation: The weather enterprise should support research efforts in the following areas:
- Weather enterprise system-focused research. To address this gap requires system-level studies of weather information production, dissemination, and evaluation; studies of how forecasters, broadcast media, emergency and transportation managers, and private weather companies create information, interact, and communicate among themselves; studies of forecaster decision making, such as what observational platforms and numerical weather prediction guidance forecasters use and how they use them; studies of how to assess the economic value of weather services; and studies of team performance and organizational behavior within weather forecast offices and other parts of the weather enterprise.
- Risk assessments and responses, and factors influencing these processes. This includes research on how to better reach and inform special-interest populations that have unique needs, such as vehicle drivers and others vulnerable to hazardous weather due to their location, resources, and capabilities. It also includes research on how people’s interest in, access to, and interpretation of weather information, as well as their decisions and actions in response, are affected by their specific social or physical context, prior experiences, cultural background, and personal values.
- Message design, delivery, interpretation, and use. Persistent challenges include understanding how communicating forecast uncertainties in different formats influences understanding and action; how to balance consistency in messaging with needs for flexibility to suit different geographical, cultural, and use contexts, including warning specificity and impact-based warnings; and how new communication and information technologies—including the proliferation of different sources, content, and channels of weather information—interact with message design and are changing people’s weather information access, interpretations, preparedness, and response.
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