4
Education and Training

Well educated and well trained people will continue to be essential for fulfilling NWS missions. Two issues the NWS will face in finding and retaining qualified scientific and technical personnel, at least in the near term, are the changing role of scientifically educated forecasters and the tight labor market for technical support professionals in telecommunications, software development, and related fields. To retain valuable professionals and fully develop its human resources, the NWS will need a comprehensive career-path program that includes flexible career progressions within the NWS and exchanges of personnel with universities, the private sector, and other providers in the environmental information network. To keep up with changes in technology and in the workforce, the NWS must keep its educational and training curricula current and broaden its in-house programs. The NWS should also work with other providers in the network to improve the "weather information literacy" of end users.

Changing Role of Forecasters

The main focus of human forecasters in the forecast/warning process is now trending toward accurate predictions at smaller and smaller spatial and temporal scales. Moreover, there is greater dependence on explicit science, captured in forecasting tools and routines, rather than relying on the tacit knowledge or skills of individuals. As a consequence of this trend, new scientific concepts and techniques will continue to be introduced into NWS operations. New and existing staff will need education and training to use the new technology and scientific knowledge effectively.

As forecast and warning operations become increasingly automated, the roles of meteorological and hydrologic professionals will change, but their importance will not diminish. At one end of the process, more effort will go into refining, extending, and validating the models and other tools of automated prediction. At the other end, an increasing portion of staff time and resources will be invested in close interactions with users of NWS products and services. Interaction with the emergency response community will continue to be critical. The proliferation of new dissemination channels will create new opportunities to get the right weather-related warnings and information to the right people in time for them to act on them.

The emphasis on incorporating environmental, observational, and forecast data into products for specific applications will increase the demand for meteorological and hydrologic applications specialists throughout the provider network, as well as in the NWS. These professionals will understand how to integrate data sets and information on weather, water, climate, air quality, and other environmental factors. In addition to an undergraduate or higher level education in meteorology, they will need an in-depth understanding of one or more disciplines in which these environmental factors have important consequences, such as human health and performance, hydrology, agronomy, entomology, or engineering. These next-generation environmental information specialists will be sought after by individual companies and consulting firms, as well as by the NWS and other government agencies.

Technical Support Staff

The supply of university graduates is expected to be sufficient to meet the needs of the NWS for meteorologist-forecasters and hydrologists. However, the supply of electronics technicians has diminished noticeably. Historically, the military services have been the primary source of these trained technicians. Major reductions in troop strength during the past decade, which have forced the military to outsource more technical support to contractors, have decreased the labor pool of trained technicians to meet the needs of civilian agencies like the NWS.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 58
--> 4 Education and Training Well educated and well trained people will continue to be essential for fulfilling NWS missions. Two issues the NWS will face in finding and retaining qualified scientific and technical personnel, at least in the near term, are the changing role of scientifically educated forecasters and the tight labor market for technical support professionals in telecommunications, software development, and related fields. To retain valuable professionals and fully develop its human resources, the NWS will need a comprehensive career-path program that includes flexible career progressions within the NWS and exchanges of personnel with universities, the private sector, and other providers in the environmental information network. To keep up with changes in technology and in the workforce, the NWS must keep its educational and training curricula current and broaden its in-house programs. The NWS should also work with other providers in the network to improve the "weather information literacy" of end users. Changing Role of Forecasters The main focus of human forecasters in the forecast/warning process is now trending toward accurate predictions at smaller and smaller spatial and temporal scales. Moreover, there is greater dependence on explicit science, captured in forecasting tools and routines, rather than relying on the tacit knowledge or skills of individuals. As a consequence of this trend, new scientific concepts and techniques will continue to be introduced into NWS operations. New and existing staff will need education and training to use the new technology and scientific knowledge effectively. As forecast and warning operations become increasingly automated, the roles of meteorological and hydrologic professionals will change, but their importance will not diminish. At one end of the process, more effort will go into refining, extending, and validating the models and other tools of automated prediction. At the other end, an increasing portion of staff time and resources will be invested in close interactions with users of NWS products and services. Interaction with the emergency response community will continue to be critical. The proliferation of new dissemination channels will create new opportunities to get the right weather-related warnings and information to the right people in time for them to act on them. The emphasis on incorporating environmental, observational, and forecast data into products for specific applications will increase the demand for meteorological and hydrologic applications specialists throughout the provider network, as well as in the NWS. These professionals will understand how to integrate data sets and information on weather, water, climate, air quality, and other environmental factors. In addition to an undergraduate or higher level education in meteorology, they will need an in-depth understanding of one or more disciplines in which these environmental factors have important consequences, such as human health and performance, hydrology, agronomy, entomology, or engineering. These next-generation environmental information specialists will be sought after by individual companies and consulting firms, as well as by the NWS and other government agencies. Technical Support Staff The supply of university graduates is expected to be sufficient to meet the needs of the NWS for meteorologist-forecasters and hydrologists. However, the supply of electronics technicians has diminished noticeably. Historically, the military services have been the primary source of these trained technicians. Major reductions in troop strength during the past decade, which have forced the military to outsource more technical support to contractors, have decreased the labor pool of trained technicians to meet the needs of civilian agencies like the NWS.

OCR for page 58
--> A similar supply problem exists for the technical staff to support information systems. This broad category, which will become increasingly important in the future, includes both hardware support and the development and maintenance of NWS-specific software. The current demand for personnel in these technical support categories is high, and market competition is intense. Therefore, the NWS may find it necessary to contract with the private sector for some of its technical support staff. The panel expects that each field office will need a computer system specialist on staff, either full time, part time, or under contract. At present, the science and operations officers (SOOs) at WFOs and the development and operations hydrologists (DOHs) at river forecast centers often serve in this capacity because they typically have enough technical expertise with computer systems and application software to satisfy some of the demand. However, this is not a sound long-term solution because the SOOs and DOHs have too many other operational and research responsibilities. Career Progression The NWS must establish and maintain visible, logical career paths for all its staff. Alternative ways to progress should enable qualified NWS personnel to move from one career track to another, in accordance with personal career objectives. For example, a person who aspires to a management position should have opportunities to develop leadership skills while maintaining his or her technical skills and gaining the necessary breadth of experience. The development of career paths will require the following components: describing clearly the functional requirements, including required prior experience, for each staff job distributing information regarding career development to the NWS workforce encouraging and mentoring personnel with the potential for growth and leadership identifying staff members who embrace the full range of environmental forecasting practices and encouraging their development as the next generation of NWS leaders The trend in the private sector away from lifetime careers with a single employer will become increasingly common in government service in the coming decades. This change will result in a continuing flow of personnel back and forth between the universities, the private sector, and the NWS. Given the expanding role of the private sector in the national environmental information network and the evolving role of the NWS in relation to other providers, this exchange of professional personnel could improve both the NWS and the provider network as a whole and ultimately provide better environmental information to the nation. However, the NWS must take this new situation into account in structuring its job requirements, education and training programs, and rewards. Educational and Training Curricula Anticipating and adapting to change requires a long-range outlook and an evolutionary approach to training that is based on understanding the current situation and appreciating new concepts and technologies that could affect NWS activities or users of its products and services. The NWS must apply this long-range, evolutionary approach to assessing its education and training needs. The assessment should include all staff training categories, such as training for new staff, refresher courses, cross-training, and upgrading capabilities. It should evaluate the capabilities expected of new staff who enter with different levels of prior professional experience. The required and desired capabilities of those who have completed a course of training should also be clearly specified. Besides the education and training of field office personnel (the meteorologists, hydrologists, and technical support staff at WFOs and RFCs), the NWS should offer a personalized curriculum for all other personnel, including: technical personnel who develop or maintain software management personnel staff of national centers In developing its curricula, the NWS should consider the experiences and talents of weather services in other countries. The NWS might also consider including non-NWS personnel in some of its training activities, which would facilitate the cross-fertilization of ideas, as well as promoting economies of scale. The recent participation of personnel from the Canadian Atmospheric Environment Service in some of the COMET programs run by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research is a constructive example. Programs Universities or technical schools provide most entry-level NWS staff with basic education and training. Operational training for NWS meteorologists and hydrologists is provided at the National Weather Service Training Center in Kansas City, Missouri, the NEXRAD Operational Support Facility in Norman, Oklahoma, and the COMET program in Boulder, Colorado. An extensive cooperative/intern program for university students also provides valuable training for entry-level staff. Most training in equipment maintenance takes place at the training center in Kansas City. In the past, training center students remained in residence at the facility for most of their training, but economic and other pressures have forced the NWS to adopt more distance-learning activities. Similar trends are apparent in other fields

OCR for page 58
--> where continuing professional education and training are essential. Most approaches to distance learning used by the NWS thus far have involved passive (one-way communication) learning through video, CD-ROM, and similar media. However, with the advent of the Internet and two-way video systems, opportunities are increasing for more interactive learning activities (NRC, 1994). On-the-job training, which takes place informally all the time, will continue to be an important part of the continuing education and training of NWS staff. In addition to their other functions, SOOs and DOHs are an invaluable resource for educating and training staff on the job. A more formal journeyman/apprentice arrangement would have advantages for learning and would also recognize the contributions of the trainer, as well as the accomplishments of the trainee. Conferences and meetings are also very important to education and training. Regular conferences organized by professional societies help spread information about new developments throughout the community. Some conferences include workshops or short courses of value for personnel training. These conferences also provide an opportunity for staff to interact with experts outside the NWS and establish working relationships that could lead to the innovative partnering necessary for meeting the nation's environmental information needs. The many formal and informal conferences arranged by the NWS, such as those for the SOOs, have been particularly effective in improving operations. Educating Users of Weather Information The NWS should provide educational aids to reach non-NWS participants in the national environmental information system, as well as broader segments of the user community. This diverse community includes television meteorologists, who are a major conduit for disseminating NWS products and services to the general public. It also includes many other sectors where NWS products and services are (and will be) used in increasingly sophisticated ways: state and local emergency management and public safety officials, airline dispatchers and pilots, transportation and construction companies, managers of energy production and distribution, agriculture, and many more. Improving "weather information literacy" across the spectrum of users will contribute significantly to the overall utility of the information disseminated by the NWS. The most important results of the NWS modernization and restructuring are better observations, forecasts, and warnings, but a by-product is a wealth of new information. New means for broad cost-effective dissemination (for example, sites on the World Wide Web of the Internet) are evolving rapidly. With interactive capabilities, the disseminated information can be accompanied by on-line help and other tools to aid novice users in learning what products mean or what responses may be appropriate. The NWS should continuously assess mechanisms for disseminating weather and related environmental information and suggested ways of using it. In the future, weather education for special applications, for the average citizen, and for school children will change substantially. Information will include graphical presentations of data in three dimensions displayed against models of local terrain. Advanced local computing capabilities will allow students to run visual simulations to compare models or play "what-if" games. Patterns that are difficult to visualize and assimilate from data or words will become intuitive and readily discernible. A public education program should explain what information is available from the provider network, why the information is relevant to users, how to interpret a forecast or warning, and how to prepare for severe weather. Means for providing this public education could include: access to weather information as part of the kindergarten-to-high-school (K-12) curriculum weather awareness weeks in schools and communities promotional material (literature, web sites, and public presentations) partnerships with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local emergency preparedness/ management agencies to convey information about disaster prevention and mitigation (Box 4-1) outreach to the construction industry (for developing and enforcing building standards), insurance companies, and other commercial interests concerned about preventing or mitigating the effects of damaging weather and related phenomena outreach through partnerships with transportation and agricultural agencies (federal and state), as well as interested private-sector providers, on ways to access and use weather-related environmental information partnerships between providers and outdoor nonprofit organizations to provide weather information for outdoor recreation activities partnerships with hospitals, health care institutions and health maintenance organizations, public health agencies (e.g., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state public health departments) to disseminate health-related weather information special forums on weather-related topics (e.g., tornado watches and heat alerts and the use of probabilistic forecasts) Implications for the National Weather Service The NWS should establish a formal mechanism for periodically assessing and prioritizing its needs for staffing and for education and training. This mechanism should consider trends in science and technology that affect operations and

OCR for page 58
--> Box 4-1 National Disaster Education Coalition An Example of Successful Partnering The central goals of the National Disaster Education Coalition are to raise public awareness of natural disasters and increase the public's ability to prepare for and respond to them. Members of the coalition are the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's U.S. Fire Administration, the NWS, the National Fire Protection Association, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Coordinating Council on Emergency Management, and the National Emergency Managers Association. By pooling their expertise, member agencies can provide more accurate information. By combining members' efforts, a broader audience receives a more consistent message. The united voice of several respected agencies has strengthened their common message. In 1998, the coalition sponsored an exhibit at a U.S. Geological Survey open house in Reston, Virginia. Other activities planned for 1998 include jointly reviewing and updating brochures on natural disasters, identifying information gaps, and producing materials to fill those gaps. For example, publications are being planned on the topics of volcanic eruptions, landslides and mud flows, and wildland fires. The coalition is evaluating the impact of materials produced by members or by the coalition. The coalition is also developing products for the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction, including an "Electronic Field Trip" for children. Another joint project is to create a guidebook for providers of local disaster education. This guidebook will describe how disaster-related information can be produced and disseminated through public-private partnerships. The coalition is also examining its own working processes to facilitate cooperation and sharing among the member agencies. Coalition members are keeping each other abreast of relevant research and new applications, as well as consulting frequently among themselves when creating or changing materials with the coalition's logo. education and training activities. Besides polarimetric radar, other examples of emerging technology developments include the retrieval and use of radio occultation soundings, mesoscale modeling and analysis (including three and four dimensional data assimilation approaches), the integration of data from multiple sources, and risk management based on probabilistic information. The NWS should maintain an updated list of the scientific, technological, and societal trends relevant to its mission. NWS assessments of its staffing needs and of the educational and training needs of its staff would benefit from independent advice from outside NOAA and the NWS. The NWS should maintain visible and openly accessible career paths that provide opportunities for personnel to migrate between the NWS, universities, and other providers in the environmental information network. A proactive outreach program of education and dissemination of information to users of NWS products will contribute to the more effective use and understanding of weather information. It will also establish a broad constituency that understands and appreciates the role of the NWS in the environmental information network. By keeping in mind the range of educational needs and opportunities, the NWS can take the lead or actively participate in outreach areas, as appropriate.