2012 NCEM-ECU Hurricane Workshop

North Carolina Emergency Management in partnership with East Carolina University's Center for Natural Hazards Research and the Renaissance Computing Institute's Engagement Center at ECU held a Hurricane Workshop on May 23, 2012 at the Murphy Center in Greenville, NC. Over 150 emergency managers, meteorologists, public information officers, emergency responders and university researchers gathered to discuss the lessons learned from Hurricane Irene, improvements to weather forecasting, and discuss challenges faced by emergency and communications professionals. Highlights of the workshop:

Social Media and Emergency Communications Panel Discussion


  • Donna Kain, Associate Professor of Technical and Professional Communications at East Carolina University presented the results of a survey designed to assess social media use in emergency management. She found that 55% of those surveyed are currently using social media, some are considering and some are not considering it. Generally, larger departments have adopted the technology and most are doing it in house. Presentation
  • Warren Lee, New Hanover County Emergency Manager described how his department is using social media at the county level. They have been trying to find new ways to reach out to young people, college and high school students. Facebook and Twitter are used by the whole county, not just emergency management and they get immediate feedback. Social media is added to their existing use of traditional media: print, newspaper, radio and television. Hurricane Irene was their first time using social media during an event and they had a 300% increase in followers during that time. They also use Youtube and Flickr for real time photos and video. Presentation
  • Roberta Thuman, Town of Nags Head Public Information Officer started using Twitter during Hurricane Irene. She is a one person office and was very aware that each of her messages, while real-time and locally oriented had a global reach. She found that she had to keep her emotions in check and be careful about what information was shared via social media. Prior to the emergency, it is important for the communicator to establish a relationship with the users and a tone. The communications officer puts a face on the Town and Twitter helps people with second homes in the area get real-time and important information.
  • Daren Brabham, Assistant Professor of Communications at UNC- Chapel Hill, advises new users of social media to do their research first before they jump into it. He said most people who get into social media for communications don't have a plan for staffing a position. One important part of the plan is to set measureable goals and develop policies. To be effective with social media, you should tweet several times a day and post to Facebook a few times a week. You should have a plan for both positive and negative engagement with the public. Expect the voice of dissent and your words to be twisted. Still, social media is a powerful way to engage with the public.

News Media and Emergency Management Community Interactions Panel


  • Julia Jarema, Communications Officer for the NC Department of Public Safety, overviewed the ways that traditional and social media were used by the North Carolina Division of Emergency Management during Hurricane Irene. They had a bit of a challenge in that their agency name and web address changed shortly before the storm. NCEM received a high volume of requests from the national media. A lesson they learned was that social media and even traditional media does not always reach those they need to reach, due to power outages. They are improving and dedicating resources to more electronic communication. Presentation
  • Nate Johnson, weather producer/meteorologist at WRAL-TV , described the trends in public information toward a more probabilistic forecasting and different graphical representations of the forecast so that people can better understand the uncertainty. Most people have an understanding of a 30% chance of rain, but a 30% chance of hurricane force winds is very different. A press conference is still a good way for emergency managers to get information out. If emergency managers can take call from the news media, they should because they be talking on the air and should get the best information. It is important that even though everybody has a piece of a message, all media should speak with one voice to avoid a mixed message in which people will hear what they want to hear. Presentation
  • John Cole, Warning Coordinator Meteorologist, National Weather Service Weather (NWS) Forecast Office in Newport, overviewed the threat assessment briefing method of communicating forecast information to the public and the DSS research project which examined the gaps in risk communication. After Hurricane Irene, NWS had Town Hall meetings in three higly impacted counties to explain their products and services. They found that people were surprised at the magnitude of the storm surge, especially when Irene was downgraded to a Category 1 storm. Presentation
  • Skip Waters, Chief Meteorologist, WCTI-TV ABC NewsChannel12 and WFXI-WYDO FOX EASTERN CAROLINA, overviewed the history of the adoption of social media by their news corporation. Although it is more work, Facebook and Twitter have become important. They noticed during the tornado outbreak last year that Facebook started to pick up much more traffic. It was useful because the information was "hyperlocal" and people provided verification of weather events on the ground. When Hurricane Irene hit, he picked the phrase "This is going to be a big deal" and repeated it through the storm. For some people that lost power, the social media was their main source of information through smart phones. About social media, Skip advised, "Ease into it, if you stay local, it will be a powerhouse."

Communication with Maps and Graphics Panel


  • Tom Allen, Associate Professor of Geography; Director, RENCI Regional Engagement Center at ECU, introduced the topic of communication with maps by reminding the audience that all maps are lies since they are flat images depicting a sphere. Researchers are trying to gain a better understanding of how people interpret maps to improve their use. Colors are important and cartographers should be aware of the problems colorblind people may have. He outlined guidelines to map development that should be used for improved communications. Presentation
  • Tom Crawford, Associate Professor of Geography, East Carolina University, described a research study conducted at ECU that used eyetracking ,heart rate, skin response and brain response technology to better understand how people react to hurricane tracking maps. They used a risk perception and behavior model and compared different depictions of the cone of uncertainty. Participants responded that they preferred the more colorful map, but they did not answer more questions correctly. Presentation
  • Rich Bandy, Lead Meteorologist, National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office in Newport, said that the only way that the weather service can provide local information is by using maps, an improvement over the text reports in the past. Confusion exists about what the cone of uncertainty means, so they have developed other products that are more probabilistic. The tropical impact graphic has wind, coastal flooding, inland flooding and tornado information. They are developing more user-friendly graphics, and using above ground flooding levels, but in many areas it is difficult because the topography is extremely complex. They are using social media and placed commemorative Hurricane Irene plaques in Manteo and Columbia. Presentation
  • Brian Blanton, Senior Research Scientist, Renaissance Computing Institute, assists the North Carolina Forecast system by using high resolution wave models that are available three hours after a National Hurricane Center advisory is issued. They use a Google map platform to display the models and have developed a mobile app for the iphone and similar devices. He invited feedback on their products. Presentation

Keynote Speaker: Bill Read, Director of the National Hurricane Center


Bill Read discussed the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Project with its 10 year goals of improving weatehr prediction model forecasts and guidance. They have done well with track recently, but looking at rapid changes in intensity. Hurricane Irene was a success, but not perfect. With Irene everything was in slow motion. They want to improve track error by 50% and it is much better now than in the past.He said there is no "justa" tropical storm. The time and endurance of the wind on an object make a big difference.We need to understand that people are in denial of bad things happening to us. It is a natural human response, but we need to learn to be proactive. Hurricane season has started early. Presentation

Lessons from Hurricane Irene


  • Don Aschbrenner, Disaster Recovery Manager for the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), described the impacts on NCDOT and the highways from Irene. He described the breaches of NC12 on the Outer Banks and the NCDOT response. They had a debris management plan and that worked well, but FEMA questioned it. To date expendiures were $39 million and FEMA provided $28 million.
  • LTC Robert Lee Ezzell, North Carolina National Guard, described theresponse of the military during Hurricane Irene. They pre-staged forces in North Carolina for the storm. Most personnel were deployed in eastern North Carolina. There were 33 life-saving missions conducted with local partners. The military hauled water and fuel to affected areas. They need to improve the coastal response evacuation plan and their people also need to know if they live in a flood zone. Presentation
  • Justin Gibbs, Hyde County EM Coordinator, described his very rural county in which the principle communities are separated by 23 miles of water. They needed 24 hours to evacuate Ocracoke Island because access is only be ferry. He described their operational timeline, the number of people impacted and the numerous resources that assisted from as far away as the Greensboro Fire Department. Presentation
  • Ann Keyes, Washington County EM Coordinator, knew that something big was coming and hosted a pre-hurricane briefing with all her county emergency responders and private partners They have citizens that needed to be moved. Their biggest impacts were damages to infrastructure and mosquito problems in the aftermath of the storm. Communications were difficult due to internet being down. Presentation
  • Joe Stanton, NCEM Recovery Section Chief, overviewed the 38 counties that were affected by Hurricane Irene. The department distributed $29 million in funds. They implemented best practices and did a great job at documenting their costs and their outreach program worked very successfully. There was confusion about the emergency declaration and the relationship with FEMA was difficult. They were not prepared for the housing issues that occurred, especially since FEMA no longer uses their trailers and recovery planning needs some improvement.
  • Lee Stocks, State Relations Disaster Liaison, American Red Cross, said that 58 of the 86 shelters that were opened during Hurricane Irene were Red Cross shelters. They have the on-going challenge of training people for managing shelters and they had a communications gaps about the feeding needed by communities. Their food supply chain, however, worked the best ever and they had good areas to set up their mobile kitchens. They want to do better by assigning liaisons for each county.
  • Brad Thompson, North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services, explained that their agency had some challenges during Hurricane Irene. Many volunteers had signed up, but when called, they did not come forward. Many shelters were not prepared for special medical needs.The agency used community colleges, but found that needed to be changed. Gaps exist in nursing home hurricane plans that have been mandated, for example, many did not have a staffing back-up plan.

Research Projects from ECU and Partners

Center for Sustainable Tourism

Affects of Weather and Climate on Tourism Business Decision-Making

Ian Conery


Center for Sustainable Tourism
Donna Kain, Pat Long, & Huili Hao

Crisis COmmunication in Tourism

Center for Sustainable Tourism
Huili Hao, Pat Long, Whitney Knollenberg, Rebecca S. Powers, Ken Wilson, Donna Kain, & Catherine Smith

Employers'’ and Managers'’ Perception of Drilled Oil Risks for Coastal North Carolina'sTourism-Impacted
Uusinesses and Organizations

Michelle Covi & Donna Kain

Sea Level Rise Risk Perception and Communication

Robert Munroe

A Geospatial Analysis of El Nino / Southern Oscillation Forced Precipitation across the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast.

Center for Sustainable Tourism
Haley Winslow & Alex Naar

Hurricane Impacts and the NC Coastal Tourism: The Case of Hurricane Irene

Center for Natural Hazards Research

Should I Stay or Should I Go:  How households make the evacuation decision

Alice Anderson and Stephanie Richards
Mosquito Control after Hurricane Irene

Daniel R. Petrolia, Craig E. Landry; Keith H. Coble, Christopher M. Sparks

Risk Preferences, Risk Perceptions, and Demand for Flood Insurance

Dr. Catherine F. Smith, Cliff Nelson, Amber Foreman, Dr. Donna J. Kain, Michelle Covi, Dr. Kenneth Wilson

Hurricane Watches and Warnings:  Different publics respond differently
(Poster based on results of study funded by NC SeaGrant R/BS19 URB #08-0296);


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