NWS stresses communication is key - Odessa American: Local News

NWS stresses communication is key

By Courtney Borchert cborchert@oaoa.com | Posted: Wednesday, March 6, 2019 4:34 pm

The Midland National Weather Service is working to better connect integrated warning teams and refine information sent to the public to strengthen coordination and communication efforts.

A workshop was held Wednesday for core partners across 24 counties to learn and exchange strategies so that unified messages can be shared with affected communities.

Conference organizer Amber Hluchan of NWS Midland said rather than focusing on weather events like in past years, the topic for this workshop needed to hone in on communication between agencies that are responsible for warning operations.

An integrated warning team consists of local government and emergency management officials, media representatives, the National Weather Service and other organizations like American Red Cross that assist communities.

“We really want to talk about platforms of communication, who we communicate with and what we need to communicate,” Hluchan said.

City of Odessa Public Information Coordinator Andrea Goodson said this is an area where there is always room for improvement. She said in her 15 years with the city, communication has always been the No. 1 weakness during drills.

Goodson said the workshop gives local emergency management officials an opportunity to reflect on how they can more efficiently handle emergency situations.

She said Ector County has already taken steps to bolster coordination strategies by implementing a virtual emergency operation center called Veoci. Ector County started using the operations platform built for crisis management about a year ago to keep officials across entities on the same page and in one conversation.

“Any time there’s an incident our emergency management coordinator will launch Veoci and we get a text message or email, however you have selected to sign up, telling you it’s been launched and to log in to the room,” Goodson said. “Everyone is in there and it’s almost like a social media platform discussing what’s happening.”

County Emergency Management Coordinator Rickey George activated a drill exercise at the workshop to demonstrate Veoci’s capabilities. George said it takes about five minutes on average for emergency officials to respond and enter the group chat room.

“It brings everyone into the same room virtually rather than physically,” George said. “We like it because not everyone is going to be at the same place at the same time.”

Within minutes after Veoci was activated several other officials in the room began receiving automated calls through their phones and smartwatches with further instructions.

One Midland County official, who is also included in the emergency contact list, described the software to the room as one of the most powerful tools the counties have started using.

George said the communication platform is used in instances like severe weather situations and any type of industrial accidents that may occur.

Goodson said being able to quickly communicate with other public information officers through the chat room allows them a space to craft an accurate and refined message for residents at varying education and language proficiency levels.