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Real-time updates, incorporation of Behavioral Sciences for modernization of weather updates

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) feels that weather and emergency systems in the US are not up to the mark and needs to keep up with latest technological developments and disciplines like Behavioral Sciences. A recent report has called for the further increase in real-time reach of the weather updates to avert losses both in terms of human lives as we all as financial. Social media and multi-national corporations, including Facebook, Twitter, and Google, have begun to include hazard warnings and alerts into their platforms, which reaches more individuals than Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), underlines the report.

Another report, titled “Integrating Social and Behavioral Sciences Within the Weather Enterprise,” throws light on the need of incorporating and integrating disciplines like Behavioral Sciences and Cognitive Sciences to improve the capability and reliability of the weather systems.

The reports categorically state that new research in the area should be enhanced at all cost to make the best possible use of forecasting and emergency alert technologies.

behavioral sciences
Hurricane Forecasting in the USA

Modernizing weather systems

Weather systems have improvised and modernized a lot in the recent years, leading to overall better disaster preparedness and mitigation. Drastic improvements in weather systems have enabled real-time weather updates, round-the-clock monitoring and made them more accurate than any time in the past. However, with the latest technological developments in a fast-changing world, there is still a lot of scope in the further modernization of weather systems.

According to the report titled “Emergency Alert and Warning Systems: Current Knowledge and Future Research Directions”, it is crucial to underscore the potential risks and challenges and enhance the alert and warning system by interdisciplinary integration of new sciences and technologies.

behavioral sciences
Snowfall forecast in the US by NOHRC

The current Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, a part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) makes use of the cell phones which are becoming all too common these days and have a widespread reach. But this system is susceptible to be dysfunctional when cellular network is either congested or unavailable, and it does not utilize the diverse communication potential of modern smartphones.

Integrating Behavioral Sciences

Behavioral Sciences is a discipline that attempts to deduce and analyze why humans take particular decisions, what is their underlying psychological motivation, what is the inherent driving factor, and why do they undertake risky behavior whose outcomes could be fatal. It challenges many core assumptions of the conventional ‘rational-choice’ theory whose central premise is that humans are logical and rational actors, with an instinct for self-preservation and maximizing benefits while minimizing risks.

behavioral sciences
Even after receiving warnings, a lot of people hit the roads in hazardous weather conditions. Image Courtesy: BanksPhotos/iStock/Getty Images Plus

For instance, despite receiving repeated warnings about heavy rains or a blizzard, there are people who tend to avoid them and hit the roads, without caring about the enormous risk associated.

To emphasize on the need of integrating Behavioral Sciences, the report has compiled the data which says that nearly 6,000 people are killed and more than 445,000 people are injured every year in weather-related vehicle crashes on American roads, despite weather forecasts and alerts of hazardous driving conditions.

Furthermore, the report notes that weather events with widespread warnings can still result in large-scale loss of life and property damage, as was the case with Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria earlier this year.

To promote better public safety and design a more intelligent system, it is imperative to know the manner in which people respond to weather warnings and why they do so.

The second report has been authored by NASEM’s Committee on Advancing Social and Behavioral Science Research and Application Within the Weather Enterprise. The committee reached to the conclusion that “an individual’s response to a severe weather event may depend on their understanding of the forecast, prior experience with severe weather, concerns about their other family members or property, their capacity to take the recommended protective actions, and numerous other factors.”

Potential and challenges ahead

Breakthrough research in social and behavioral sciences has an immense potential not only in the improvisation of hazardous weather warnings but also triggering a marked improvement in preparedness and mitigation for weather risks, hazard monitoring, assessment, forecasting, emergency management and response, and in long-term recovery efforts.

Both the reports acknowledge that there are substantial challenges, roadblocks, and bottlenecks in the path of thorough modernization and adapting behavioral sciences. There is a palpable gap and asymmetry in the rapid new innovations and the snail’s pace at which they are being adapted and integrated, which means that the updated modern systems have to be concurrently compatible with both the old as well as the new technological system specifications.

The reports also take into consideration the issues of privacy breach, security and the risk of spoofing and hacking when a system would nudge vast populations to take particular actions.