RENCI launches NC-FIRST to aid North Carolina emergency managers

Just in time for the hurricane season, emergency service providers across North Carolina have a new tool available to help them interpret weather data and coordinate response plans, called NC-FIRST.

Developed by the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) and using information from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service, other NOAA agencies and the State Climate Office of North Carolina, NC-FIRST is modeled after the successful OK-FIRST program, created by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey at the University of Oklahoma. NC-FIRST targets first responders and aims to help them interpret and easily access weather data so they can make better decisions during weather emergencies. It includes two components: classroom training on interpreting weather data and a weather data Web portal.

NC-FIRST classroom training helps first responders understand scientific weather data ranging from satellite and radar images to text forecasts and new National Weather Service products. The NC-FIRST Weather Data Portal pulls together a wide range of weather data into an easy-to-use Web environment. Designed for North Carolina emergency personnel, the weather portal tailors its information to the user’s county, providing an accurate, real-time picture of local weather conditions.

“NC-FIRST, for the first time, pulls together in one picture the weather hazards across the state,” said Ed Jenkins, manager of the Planning Support Branch at North Carolina Division of Emergency Management. “Prior to NC-FIRST, graphical displays of state weather were separated into seven National Weather Service warning areas. This lengthened the time required to assess the hazardous situation. Because of NC-FIRST, offices can now display state hazards seamlessly which allows decision makers to better understand the threat to citizens,”.

The NC-FIRST Web portal and the first NC-FIRST training modules will be introduced June 18 – 22 at the Eastern Branch Certification Training Week in Kinston. This week-long training program is held every year to prepare emergency management workers in eastern North Carolina for the year’s hurricane season. The program includes training materials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Weather Service, the National Hurricane Center, and now RENCI. This first edition of NC-FIRST training includes a section on deciphering the annual hurricane outlook produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center, and sections on analyzing visual data on wind speeds and probabilities, river forecasting issues, and ocean surface winds.

“Weather disasters put communities and thousands of people at risk each year and have the potential of costing the state millions, or even billions, of dollars,” said RENCI Director Dan Reed. “NC-FIRST is one of many RENCI projects aimed at improving disaster planning, response and mitigation. It puts the most advanced tools used in prediction and planning into the hands of the people who need them the most: the county emergency managers who are on the front lines when severe storms strike.”

The NC-FIRST tropical storm training modules are the first of a planned series of weather-related modules. This fall, RENCI will unveil new NC-FIRST materials that help responders interpret data on icing and snow. Those modules will be incorporated into fall training courses for emergency managers on dealing with winter weather.