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Ellen Bass Contributes to National Academies Report Encouraging Weather Enterprise to Invest More in Social and Behavioral Scientists

December 14, 2017

Drexel University College of Computing & Informatics (CCI) Professor Ellen Bass, PhD contributed to a National Academies consensus report (published November 1) that encourages government agencies, industry and academic institutions to integrate social and behavioral sciences into their work.

The report, titled “Integrating Social and Behavioral Sciences Within the Weather Enterprise,” was a collaboration between the Board on Atmospherics Sciences and Climate, the Board on Human-Systems Integration (BOHSI), and the Board on Environmental Change and Society.

While our ability to forecast weather with accuracy, geographic specificity and lead time has improved drastically over the last few decades, the report maintains that scientists also need to study people’s responses to the weather to protect communities from hazardous weather. Understanding the human side of situation (in addition to the meteorology) will lead to more effective forecasts and warnings, reduced vulnerability and hazardous weather risk mitigation before the weather event begins. It will also enable emergency management and response efforts.

The report also suggests strategies to better integrate social and behavioral sciences into weather alert systems, specifically pointing to past extreme weather events such as: Superstorm Sandy, when accurate forecasts and widespread warnings failed to trigger appropriate protective behaviors from communities; a 2013 deadly tornado outbreak in Oklahoma, during which thousands of people fled from homes in cars despite a long-term messaging campaign on the dangers of encountering tornadoes in a vehicle; and the 2017 hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, during which the weather enterprise struggled to effectively communicate about weather hazards with inherent uncertainties and while providing response and recovery support that would increase weather readiness.

The report uses examples, like the ones above, to support the theory that a myriad of social and behavioral factors ultimately determine how people prepare for, observe, predict, respond to, and are impacted by weather hazards. Subsequently, it suggests coordination strategies with researchers and practitioners from social and behavioral science fields so that scientists will be able to more effectively apply relevant research to strategies for public engagement when severe weather events occur.

In line with this study, Bass’s research program involves developing theories of human performance, quantitative modeling methodologies, and associated experimental designs that can be used to evaluate human-automation interaction and human-human collaboration in the context of total system performance. The research outcomes can be used in the systems engineering process: to inform system requirements, procedures, display designs and training interventions and to support system evaluation.

Bass earned a doctorate in systems engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, a master of sciences degree in advanced technology from the State University of New York at Binghamton, and a bachelor of sciences degree in bioengineering and in economics from the University of Pennsylvania. She shares joint appointments in both CCI and the College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP). She also holds affiliate status in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems