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Public Education and Awareness

For a warning or a forecast to be successful, in spite of its accuracy and skill, it has to be disseminated and presented in a way that allows the intended user to actually receive, understand, believe and act upon the information. An effective public weather services programme will always aim to enhance:

  • User awareness - to receive the information the user must be aware of the services available and the means by which they can be accessed;
  • User understanding - to understand the information the product must be presented in plain, concise language and the user must know the meaning of the meteorological terms used;
  • User faith – for a user to believe the information the NMHS must have a public image of credibility, reliability, accuracy and timeliness.
  • This goal can only be achieved by a well-organised and coordinated public education and awareness programme.
The aims of a public education and awareness programme

The main objectives of a public education and awareness programme are as follows:

  • To increase weather literacy and interest in meteorological topics in general, and also ensure that warnings and forecasts provided by the NMHS are understood by the intended users;
  • To build up a high level of awareness of hazards and preparedness and how to deal with them;
  • To strengthen relationships between members of the hazards community to enable emergency management authorities to make well-informed decisions, and to minimise the potential for misinterpretation of information and communication of misinformation to the public;
  • To provide information to the public on the role of the NMHS, what types of products and services are available and how to obtain them.
Target audiences for public education programmes

The NMHScaters to the entire population which is composed of different audiences. The public education programme must address these audiences carefully if it is to be effective. Some educational topics, material and approaches may suit a broad spectrum of audiences, but in other instances activities should be tailored to a specific audience. The following identifies some important target audiences:

  • The general public - the most effective means of reaching this large and diverse audience is through the mass media. Public interests range across weather forecasts and warnings, current weather, climatology, atmospheric phenomena, technology and environmental issues and concerns.
  • The media – the role of the media is twofold. As the most effective means of dissemination of NMHS information they are intrinsic to the successful implementation of public awareness and educational activities. On the other hand, they are a major target audience to be educated about the NMHS, meteorology, meteorological terms, and NMHS products.
  • Schools and academic institutions - education of children in meteorology and related services is good NMHS strategy since it assures a future weather-literate generation. The programme should also incorporate training for teachers to promote and support education of children.
  • Government authorities - If decision-makers are to make decisions on actions to take during hazardous events or on environmental issues, they need to be informed about the NMHSproducts and how to make best use of them. Education of this target audience will minimise the potential for misinterpretation of information and communication of misinformation to the public.
  • Hazards community - with this group there is a sense of shared mission. They include the media, government authorities, emergency managers, and non-government and volunteer organisations. The NMHS itself forms part of this group.
  • Economic sectors- include among others, agriculture, fishing, forestry, energy suppliers, transportation, building and construction, tourism and recreational and sporting activities. Educational activities need to focus on the particular meteorological phenomena of interest for each sector, and how best to make use of the information available.

A list of possible topics for a public education programme might include, among others, the following:

  • The role of the NMHS;
  • The range of public weather services provided and how to use them;
  • Severe weather and the different types of warnings issued by the NMHS;
  • The economic benefits of weather services;
  • Weather phenomena (in general or peculiar to a region);
  • Meteorological terminology (especially those used in forecasts and warnings);
  • Climate services, hydrological services, agro-meteorological services;
  • Meteorology and hydrology as related to sustainable development and natural disasters;
  • Environment topics - ozone hole, global warming, climate change etc.

Means of public education

Focal points

The public education programme will benefit from the designation of a staff member with aptitude for this type of work, as a ''focal point'' who will coordinate the programme's activities.

Education materials

Education materials such as pamphlets, posters, slides and videos can be developed in-house, or with help from other agencies and sponsors such as the media, businesses and insurance companies. Such partnerships can help with the high cost of developing, printing and distributing brochures and awareness material. A useful technique to heighten credibility and increase public acceptance of the awareness message is to include input from a respected non-governmental organisation such as the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Hazards awareness and preparedness materials

The hazards community should cooperate in the development and distribution of pamphlets and posters outlining safety rules for coping with each type of hazard as well as information for longer term preparedness.

Talks, seminars, workshops and visits
  • The following are some guidelines on the use of talks, seminars, workshops and visits in an approach to public education and awareness:
  • Focus on specific topics (e.g. tropical cyclones or drought);
  • Focus on key target audiences (e.g. emergency managers or teachers);
  • Distribute awareness and education materials to the audience;
  • Do not forget to get feedback from the participants in the audience and assimilate such feedback into the education and awareness programme;
  • Conduct seminars on particular forecasts problems and inform users on how to interpret and make use of the forecasts;
  • Invite the hazards community to visit the NMHS to learn and become familiarised with the NMHSoperations, technology, products and services and how to access and use them, as well as constraints of the meteorologists;
  • Conduct seminars and workshops with professional societies, universities, and public education programmes to ensure cross-fertilisation of ideas;
  • Organise joint training activities conducted by the NMHS and those government agencies charged with emergency response actions.
Other useful approaches for public awareness and education programmes

There are other activities that the NMHS can use to foster and promote public awareness and education. The following lists some of those activities:

  • Open days - allow the public and other users to meet, interact and personalise the relationship with NMHSstaff in the workplace;
  • Shows and exhibitions – a thematic booth or stand at fairs or exhibitions is a good way to advertise the NMHSservices, while also personalising the staff relationship with the visiting public;
  • Media human-interest story – will be useful for the media during quiet weather spells;
  • Reports - could be the NMHS annual report, scientific reports, research results, reports on special weather events or disasters and even the NMHS response to another agency's published report;
  • Curricula for schools and universities – the NMHS can develop meteorological and hydrological lessons and curricula, together with the education community, for use in schools and universities;
  • The Internet – the latest development in information technology is a valuable channel through which to distribute material and to link with other information sources such as other NMHSs and various agencies;
  • Team approaches – work best when the NMHS teams with other user groups or agencies with similar goals or target audiences;
  • Hazards community partnership – this is a special case of (the above) team approaches and serves the common goal of educating the public on warnings and response regarding hazards;
  • Cooperation with observer groups – volunteer observers and spotter groups can form a significant part of a nation's weather and climate data network and should be supported to maintain their interest and continued cooperation;
  • Awareness campaigns – occasions such as World Meteorological Day, the start of the cyclone season, the anniversary of a disaster or the inauguration of a new NMHS facility provide opportunities for special awareness programmes. The target audience should include schools, teachers, media, hazards community, various users and businesses;
  • Hazard awareness drills – periodic drills should be conducted to assess the readiness of the hazards community to function as a unit during a crisis situation. This allows the identification and correction of weaknesses in the system.
Performance indicators

Performance indicators are used to measure the effectiveness or degree of success achieved by the public awareness and education programme. Some of the indicators are:

  • Rate of use of NMHS products, (was there an increased demand?);
  • Change in the number/type of clients and queries;
  • Feedback in the form of compliments or complaints received directly or in the media; (the number of press clippings, letters, phone-calls, e.mails);
  • Change in casualty statistics (injuries, loss of life) and property damage due to adverse weather;
  • Economic benefits/losses reported in weather-sensitive sectors of the economy resulting from use of NMHS products in planning and operations.
Training of NMHSstaff

The NMHS staff, especially forecasters and warning specialists and coordinators, and any staff members who have contact with the general public, should be trained in the provision of public weather services. NMHS staff training could be facilitated in part, by media specialists and might include the following:

  • How to compose forecasts and warnings so that they will be easily understood by the recipients;
  • Grooming in media presentation skills and media relations (at least for some staff and with media input);
  • How to prepare and give a talk to an audience;
  • How to prepare newspaper graphics and write a media release;
  • How to design an Internet web-page;
  • Telephone etiquette for all staff and how to deal with telephone and face-to-face enquiries, especially difficult ones;
  • Verification and evaluation, including social and economic impacts;
  • How to conduct a survey to ascertain users' requirements or to monitor the value of the existing service; (these skills might reside outside the NMHS but it is important that staff appreciate what is involved);
  • How to cooperate with emergency management personnel during severe weather;
  • An appreciation of the special needs of particular national industries such as agriculture or forestry.

The above training will cater to people who create, promote, package, sell and deliver public weather services. It is equally important that NMHS managers be trained in the organisation of public weather services. Training topics should incorporate:

  • Development of a user focus, identification of users and assessment of their requirements;
  • Development of a vision and a plan for the service;
  • Equipment, staffing and training programmes needed to cater for the required level of service;
  • Monitoring and evaluation of the value of the service (with outside help, if necessary);
  • The need to adapt to changes in interrelated national industries, community expectations and meteorological capability.

Note: Detailed discussions of this section are contained in the second edition of the Guide to Public Weather Services Practices.




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