Coming nicely on the heels of our interview with Todd Foisy from NWS Anchorage, Mark Fox, the WCM in FWD has kindly agreed to answer a few questions on the new WFSO FWD Facebook page. The weather community is watching the progress very closely.
Here are the questions I sent to Mark and his answers are after the jump…
WFSO FWD is a few weeks into its Facebook experiment. What are your observations to date compared to expectations?
What are your plans with regard to watch, warning and advisory information? More specifically, will the information simply be fed from the NWS data stream or will there be any value added on the Facebook page?
What are the manpower needs? How often is the page checked?
Can users post questions? General questions and specific?
How will a question like, “Will there be hail at my house?” be handled?
FWD provides in depth information to media and EMS partners via NWSChat. Will any of that data become available to the general public?
How much freedom will the local office have to innovate? What approval process is required from Southern Region HQ and above?
Is a WSFO FWD Twitter account in the works?
We are now a little more than 3 weeks into the experiment and we have around 1500 followers. We had a little over 300 followers after one day and the fans keep on adding up. So far, so good. We have garnered a good group of followers, and everything is going great.
We are planning a lot of things with the watch, warning, and advisory information. Essentially, we are in background test mode to find the best way to send that information through the page. We could turn on the spigot right now and easily post every watch, every warning and every advisory for the 46 counties we are responsible for. We don’t think this would be the most effective way to use this means of social media, as the page would be bombarded with messages. We are exploring the use of groups, the use of tabs, and anything else we can think of to get that message out. Right now, the best use of the medium is to use the page heavily before events begin, to raise awareness of impending weather. Then, we can redirect our followers to get the up to the minute information through the usual methods; TV, radio, NOAA weather radio. We want to add value where we can, instead of just posting a stream of text products.
The weather service office is a 24/7/365 operation, so the manpower issue hasn’t come up too much. We check the page occasionally, some forecasters have the page open continuously, others check it once or twice a shift. Generally speaking, we check every few hours and monitor the page.
Users can, and have posted questions. These range from “will it rain at my house?” to “what is the weather going to be for my wedding day next May?” Obviously, both of these questions can’t be answered specifically, so we tend to answer with the general forecast and a reminder that preparedness and readiness are up to the individual. Unfortunately, we can’t answer every single question, especially when the weather is bad (when everyone wants their question to be answered). If we have time and can answer a reasonable question, we do our best to get to it.
We provide a lot of information to the media and Emergency Management community through NWSChat and we will continue to do so. During fast changing weather, our best use of time will be posts to NWSChat, because information we send to the media will reach more people (tens of thousands or millions) than it will through our facebook page (few thousands). When we have a few moments, we will post what we can to the facebook page, but our goal is to save life and property. We can best do that by focusing on the science and focusing our message through the media.
The beautiful thing about being a prototype project is freedom. We have been given lots of leeway to innovate and to improve the process. We are in weekly communication with our regional headquarters, who are in constant communication with our national headquarters. We have a lot of freedom to make the project work, the best way we know how. As we go through growing pains, and there has been some, we are documenting the process, so we can bring other offices up to speed quickly. This project is gathering a lot of interest, so we are trying to do it right.
Other social media is in the works. Most of our process has been to document what it takes to go to the next level, whether it be facebook, twitter, or whatever social network is next.
Thanks, Mark. We’re all watching with interest.