SR MSD 99-2
THE HURRICANE LIAISON TEAM
Ron Block, Senior Forecaster
1. DEFINITION AND COMPOSITION OF THE TEAM
The Hurricane Liaison Team (hereafter HLT), is activated anytime a hurricane threatens or impacts the United States and its territories. It is composed of personnel from two agencies, NWS and FEMA. This includes NWS meteorologists from the Southern and Eastern Regions who are effectively "on loan" to the National Hurricane Center (hereafter NHC). They share responsibilities with members of the FEMA Hurricane Program. This includes the team leader, a FEMA Regional Hurricane Program Manager who is assisted by technical support (computer) personnel and part time disaster assistance specialists. The latter normally function as county emergency managers.
NWS meteorologists who express an interest in becoming team members are nominated, initially by their MIC with "the final cut" realized by SRH/ERH. Although there are no specific NWS requirements, team members (usually three per hurricane event or one per shift with overlap) are generally senior forecasters, SOOs or WCMs with hurricane forecasting experience. Demonstrated ability to perform in a team environment, under stressful scenarios and in front of the camera are also factored into the team makeup.
The HLT is assigned one room at NHC, adjacent to the main operations area replete with computers/telephones/printers/FAX etc.
The FEMA first line supervisor oversees the day to day operations of the team. He/she delegates responsibilities, assures accountability, interacts with the national FEMA managers to report on storm and team progress, participates along with meteorologist on major briefings and insures that adequate staff are available at all times to fulfill the mission. The second line supervisor is the Director of NHC or his designee. He particularly works with the team meteorologists insuring NHC-NWS Meteorologist cooperation and interaction including access to all relevant guidance. The NHC director, after interfacing with the FEMA manager decides when to activate or deactivate the team. Both also provide input into which Meterologists are selected to participate by submitting name requests to the SRH/ERH.
The primary responsibility of the NWS Meteorologist is to provide daily video-conference briefings to the director of FEMA and his staff. He/she also interfaces with appropriate NOAA/NWS offices such as SRH/ERH, SPC, HPS and the affected RFCs and forecast offices to solicit information (i.e. damage reports and flooding) to help prepare the briefings and to insure that they participate in these briefings via video and/or audio. The meteorologist provides a fifteen minute power point presentation including IR and water vapor images, hurricane forecast tracks, wind swaths, surge heights and the locations of watches and warnings. The other offices are then asked to elaborate in their areas of expertise. The FEMA manager will provide some damage and evacuation information and then the FEMA director followed by anyone else may ask follow up questions.
The NWS Meteorologist also prepares a 60-75 second audio summary of the briefing for the FEMA Internet page which displays slides accompanied by a non-technical description. During Hurricane Dennis, each presentation was heard by in excess of 65,000 persons. In between formal briefings, the Meteorologist informs the HLT on any changes or potential changes in the hurricane track and watch and warnings. This is accomplished in part by interfacing with the NHC staff, the information being used to give FEMA and impacted emergency managers a heads-up on upcoming situation. Additionally, there are varied calls to/from regional FEMA offices and local emergency managers soliciting more detailed information than provided in the disseminated products. Interaction with the affected WSFO/WSOs insure that FEMA/EMs receive the most up-to-date information which deflectd their calls away from the much relieved NHC specialists. The Mets also determine which graphics will be utilized for all visual presentations amd logged calls to insure accountability.
Comprising a HLT member means being suddenly dropped into a highly charged environment during the countries most visible national emergency. It also involves being suddenly thrust into a professional relationship with unknown people including some from another agency with different goals and backgrounds...and lacking the luxury to ease into a working relationship. The hours are long with no guarantee when your shift ends and there is generally little time to deal with personal needs. There is also the pressure of performing in a fishbowl where you must satisfy such notables as the directors of FEMA and NHC knowing that many NWS managers and colleagues are listening to and likely evaluating your performance.
5. OPPORTUNITIES AND CONCLUSIONS
Despite the challenges noted above, participation in the HLT is extremely rewarding. Hurricanes are the ultimate thrill for most meteorologist. Thus the adrenalin generated by the event compensates for fatigue. The opportunities to work at NHC alongside some of the best talent in NOAA, while utilizing the state-of-the-art technology is a meteorologist's dream. Interacting with FEMA and emergency management officials portrays a new side (human side) to the forecasting equation that can only enhance one's skills as a meteorologist. Thus the opportunities greatly outweigh the challenges.