They Had the Facts, Why Didn’t They Act?

Understanding and improving public response to National Weather Service’s coastal flood forecasts

During acute coastal storm events, residents and emergency managers need specific, accurate, and timely information in order to make decisions about how to prepare for the threat of coastal flooding. But often at these times, they are inundated with information from a variety of sources, including social media, broadcast media, and government agencies. Amid all this noise, how do people make decisions about when to act, and how can they find the most important information quickly?

National Weather Service’s suite of coastal flood forecast and warning products, which are critical tools in this decision-making, was at the heart of NNC’s social science research project, “They Had the Facts, Why Didn’t They Act?” Through a series of focus groups and surveys, this study examined how residents and emergency managers in Ocean and Monmouth Counties use these and other flood forecast products to determine their response to coastal flooding.

Specifically, the project studied the current and potential role of emergency briefings in helping individuals and emergency managers to a) understand their flood threat and b) decide to evacuate or take protective actions. Emergency briefings, which combine some of the most critical storm information into one centralized document, emerged as an important source of information in New Jersey during Hurricane Sandy. This project made general findings about NWS coastal flood tools, as well as best practice recommendations on the use of these emergency briefings. Project researchers also interviewed East Coast broadcast meteorologists to understand how they use NWS coastal flood tools, and how briefings could be incorporated into their broadcasts. NNC has been sharing these findings with a broad audience of NOAA, National Weather Service and weather enterprise professionals.

Round 2 Focus Group revised watches and warnings recommendations

CSAPimageFindings from this study include how the timing, the verbal and graphic clarity of information, and the inclusion of uncertainty information affect the public’s understanding of, and response to, coastal storms and flooding.  In particular, the report speaks to the use of emergency briefing packages as an important, integrated, and simplified mechanism for receiving coastal storm information. You can find the full report here.

The project team included: Rachel Hogan Carr, Director of Nurture Nature Center; Dr. Burrell Montz, PhD, Chair and Professor of the Department of Geography, Planning and the Environment at East Carolina University; Lisa Auermuller of the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Reserve; and Elizabeth Goldman and Susan Frankel, PhD., of RMC Research Corporation. This project ran from January 2014 to April 2015. “They Had the Facts, Why Didn’t They Act?” is one of ten social science research projects funded by Connecticut Sea Grant, New Jersey Sea Grant and New York Sea Grant through the Coastal Storm Awareness Program (CSA) to help understand community response to disasters in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. For more information on CSAP, visit here:

This information was prepared by Nurture Nature Center using Federal funds under the Coastal Storm Awareness Program (NOAA awards NA13OAR4830227, NA13OAR4830228, NA13OAR4830229) from the National Sea Grant College Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. The Federal funds were provided via appropriations under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (P.L. 113-2) and the Sea Grant Act (33 U.S.C. 1121 et seq.). Funding was awarded to the financial hosts of the Sea Grant College Programs in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York via their financial host institutions, the University of Connecticut, the New Jersey Sea Grant Consortium, and the Research Foundation of State University of New York, respectively. The statements, findings, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Sea Grant College Program, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Commerce, nor any of the other listed organizations.