Hazard, risks, advice – how far should we go?
This was the title of the plenary discussion on September 11th 2013 at the EMS-ECAM meeting held in Reading. It was chaired by Will Lang, Chief Forecaster at the UK Met Office. The panel members were:
- Craig Woolhouse, Head of Flood Incident Management at the (English) Environment Agency (EA)
- Dennis Schulze, PRIMET, Chief Operating Officer of MeteoGroup
- Gerald Fleming of Met Eireann
- Paul Davies, Chief Meteorologist at the UK Met Office
The discussion centred on the question of how to ensure that end-users of forecasts for extreme events were using them effectively, or making the ‘correct’ decisions. Should more persuasive language be used to illicit a given response, or should individuals and organisations be free to act on a forecast as they see fit? The opening statements covered issues such as ‘galvanising trust and authority’ (Davies), ‘consistent and coherent’ approaches (Fleming), creating an ‘overlap of knowledge’ between meteorologists and users (Schulze), and ‘engaging people with risk’ (Woolhouse).
With the discussion opened up to the audience there were plenty of anecdotes as to what particular organisations had found successful or not, with examples demonstrating the importance of joint initiatives and establishing partnerships as a ‘recognition of a bigger picture’. Predominantly though, there was clear rhetoric from the panel and audience about the importance of bringing the expertise of social scientists to the forefront of meteorology.
The EMS-ECAM meeting was largely a science-focussed event, and it was clear that a ‘social science’ input was missing from the plenary discussion. Additionally, while there were many comments about the need for social science, this ‘need’ remained quite vague and undefined. Perhaps the meteorological and hydrological communities would benefit from both a better understanding and awareness of what social scientists have to offer and, subsequently, from help to better define the questions that need to be answered?
Of course, there are interdisciplinary projects that do address the usability of forecasts from a social science angle, and arguably the hydrological community is already quite good at this, but maybe more could be done to engage the wider meteorological [and hydrological] communities with social science, a field that is probably quite alien to most physical scientists?
One way to do this would be to ensure that forums such as EMS (and others where HEPEX has a presence) identify, attract and involve people with the relevant social science expertise and experience; as Woolhouse pointed out, physical scientists shouldn’t leave it to the social scientists to take the lead. In the meantime though, feel free to encourage anyone involved in answering these questions to write a blog post to promote their work!