Rainfall Estimates or Tornado Detection?: An Assessment Based on the Needs of Emergency Managers

Donner, William R.
Grainger, Desiree
Rodriguez, Havidan
Diaz, Walter
Santos, Jenniffer
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Disaster Research Center
The following research brief uses data obtained from twenty six (n=26) interviews with emergency managers, National Weather Service (NWS) forecasters, and amateur radio operators (HAM) to determine whether rainfall estimation or tornado detection would more effectively address the needs of the emergency management community in Oklahoma. This study was conducted as part of a broader project on end-user integration, which intends to incorporate the needs and recommendations of end users into the design of radar technology currently under development by the Engineering Center for the Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA). In the course of our analysis, we discovered that a majority of emergency managers require tornado detection due to the specific needs of Oklahoma communities, as well as their experiences with severe weather. We identified three reasons for this decision. First, tornados are less predictable than floods. Second, mitigation strategies, such as rain gauges and retention ponds, have significantly reduced the threat of flooding in most regions. Finally, failed tornado warnings vis-a-vis flood warnings seem to pose a greater threat to professional credibility and legitimacy. Overall, these findings indicate that emergency managers consider a wide range of factors when making decisions related to severe weather. While much is revealed about the decision-making process, the reasons for which emergency managers chose tornado detection over rainfall estimation were, in some cases, based on incomplete or inaccurate information. Most strikingly, for example, is that according to epidemiological statistics, flooding appears to be a greater threat to life than tornados. Moreover, current flood mitigation practices do not address the fact that a) floods produce long-term and diffuse effects (e.g. insurance costs), and b) mitigation techniques may decrease the level of individual preparedness, putting a population at risk of flash and/or major flooding. It is the recommendation of emergency managers that radar resources should primarily be allocated to tornado detection. It should, however, be remembered that flooding may continue to constitute a major threat to these communities.
Tornado-General , Floods-General , Disaster Preparedness , Disaster Management , Emergency Response