Study reveals ways to improve systems using new weather technology

SANTA MONICA, CA – Human factors/ergonomics researchers at three universities are working to ensure that improved weather radar data gathered through the Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) project will help emergency managers make faster, more accurate, and more confident decisions about approaching severe weather. The researchers will present the findings of their study at the Hilton San Francisco Hotel on Thursday, October 19, 2006, during the HFES 50th Annual Meeting, October 16–20.

Since the 1990s, the weather community has used a network of 158 nationwide Doppler radars to observe the atmosphere. Emergency managers are usually glued to these screens so they can predict approaching major weather systems. There are limitations to the Doppler radar, however; low-altitude areas where severe weather strikes the hardest--the Gulf Coast, for example – are extremely undersampled.

CASA radars can detect weather systems lower to the ground, more frequently, with shorter ranges, and with finer spatial and temporal resolution. Four CASA radars covering a 100 x 100-kilometer testing area in Oklahoma will be up and running in late 2006. To determine the impact of this improved data, the researchers first created a model of how emergency managers make decisions. Then they asked 11 experienced emergency managers to make decisions about two simulated severe weather scenarios and to complete questionnaires based on their techniques, experiences, and observations following the simulations.

This study helped the researchers refine the decision-making model by revealing difficulties that the emergency managers encountered. For example, many did not understand the relationship between radar location and storm velocity data, and some became distracted by the fine-grained details and lost the "big picture" perspective. These findings will aid in the design of improved training and better visualizations of the data.


To obtain a press copy of the 50th Annual Meeting paper "Emergency Management Decision-Making Suring Severe Weather" by Leigh A. Baumgart and coauthors, or a press pass for the HFES 50th Annual Meeting, please contact HFES Communications Director Lois Smith (, 310/394-1811). The entire meeting program may be viewed at

The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in September 2007, is a multidisciplinary professional association of more than 4,500 persons in the United States and throughout the world. Its members include psychologists and other scientists, designers, and engineers, all of whom have a common interest in designing systems and equipment to be safe and effective for the people who operate and maintain them.

The work reported in this release was supported in part by the Engineering Research Centers Program of the National Science Foundation under NSF Award Number 0313747 for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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