When the American Red Cross responded the morning after the 24 May tornado outbreak in central Oklahoma, they had a new tool in their pocket. The Warning Decision Support System—Integrated Information (WDSS-II), developed by NOAA’s National Severe Storm Lab, cut disaster assessment time from 72 hours down to 24, a major improvement that could save many lives when it comes to rescue in the wake of a disaster.
The WDSS-II works by narrowing when and where the severe weather most likely occurred. Using radars, satellites, and other observation systems, the On Demand feature of the tool records tracks of rotation and hail swath images that can be opened in Google Earth. When street maps are overlaid with these images, disaster teams can assess which areas likely need assistance first, as well as the most accessible routes to take.
“They no longer have to put boots on the ground to visually assess the situation before planning how they will deploy response teams,” comments Kurt Hondl, NSSL research meteorologist. “It makes the coordination and planning of the American Red Cross’s response so much more efficient.”
The WDSS-II On Demand software is available to American Red Cross officers and other assessment organizations. More than 250 volunteers in Oklahoma and Texas have been trained so far by the Red Cross to utilize the NSSL On Demand software. Other organizations, like FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, have begun to take advantage of the technology as well.