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CASA Plays Substantial Part in Designation of UMass Amherst as a “StormReady” University

The Center for Collaborative Adaptive Sensing of the Atmosphere (CASA) was a large factor in the designation of UMass Amherst as a “StormReady” institution by the National Weather Service (NWS). It was the first such designation awarded to a public university in Massachusetts. During the NWS assessment, UMass Amherst was recognized for its emergency preparedness program, 24-hour warning point capabilities for severe weather, and the CASA project, led by our Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, which has spent the last decade developing a revolutionary radar system for tracking tornadoes and other severe storms. See Daily Hampshire Gazette. See News Office release.

To be recognized as StormReady, a university must establish a 24-hour warning point and emergency operations center; have multiple ways to receive severe weather warnings and forecasts and to alert the public; create a system that monitors weather conditions locally; promote the importance of public readiness through seminars; and develop a formal hazardous weather plan, which includes training severe weather spotters and holding emergency exercises. The StormReady recognition is valid for three years.

“A lot that goes into being a StormReady university is part of our comprehensive all-hazards emergency management program,” says Jeff Hescock, director of emergency management. “All of us have the potential to be impacted by a weather-related emergency on campus, and it is critical that we have plans in place to respond to any type of weather-related emergency.”

Recently, CASA was recognized for saving lives and helping to alert the population during a series of deadly tornadoes in the Dallas/Fort Worth area over the Christmas holidays. Officials in Ellis County, Texas, credited the recently installed CASA radar system with being at least partially responsible for saving lives and greatly reducing injuries during the very dangerous tornado that touched down in the Ellis County town of Midlothian, south of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, during the December 26 Tornado outbreak.

As Ellis County Judge Carol Bush said at a press conference immediately following the tornado, “With the CASA radar system in the Midlothian area, it gives a lot of advanced notice, and we were able to communicate that to the community. And I think that has really assisted in seeing a decrease in injuries.”

NWS forecasters in the Fort Worth office, who also have access to CASA data, were able to see the development of the tornado – the “hook” or curly cue that indicates a tornado is happening – on the CASA radar and used that information in their warning communications to emergency managers, media, and other public safety personnel.

“Using CASA data, you could track the path of the tornado down streets and through neighborhoods,” said Brenda Philips, co-director of CASA. “This is an exciting result for us. By analyzing these types of events, we’ll learn how to make warnings better for everyone involved in tornado response, from the NWS and emergency managers to even the public’s decision to take shelter. ”

“The Ellis County judge had at least two press conferences where she credited CASA as part of the region’s emergency preparedness measures and spoke of use of CASA to warn citizens,” said Apoorva Bajaj, innovation manager and industry liaison officer for CASA. “CASA data was used on [December 26] to support public safety in Texas. There were several tornadoes in the region, some in our network, some outside. CASA had the best view of the Midlothian tornado.” (January 2016)

Read Umass News Office release