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Local media encouraged to help disseminate accurate info during disasters

 National Weather Service Office meteorologist Elinor Lutu-McMoore with local Department of Homeland Security officials Fale Ulufale and Vinnie Atofau.  [photo: FS]

With American Samoa now in cyclone season — which runs through Apr. 30, 2018 — the National Weather Service Office in Tafuna and the local Department of Homeland Security/TEMCO have reached out to local media outlets to help keep people informed as part of preparations before and after a storm.

 During any disaster, the media, especially the broadcast outlets, plays a vital role in ensuring that accurate information from authorities is disseminated to the community as soon as it becomes available, in a timely manner.

This past Tuesday, the NWSO and ASDHS hosted the 2017-2018 Tropical Cyclone Workshop, where not only Weather Service officials shared information and data for the current season, but also sought input from media representatives on how best to get the message out to the public to prepare and stay informed when there is a pending tropical cyclone.

Broadcast media — radio, television, and cable TV — and print, were represented at the workshop, along with officials from the US Coast Guard, Office of Samoan Affairs, Human and Social Services, Weather Office, Bluesky Communications, and ASDHS. A similar workshop was held the day before, for liaisons from each ASG entity.

ASDHS deputy director Jacinta Brown said one of the most important topics that has come up is “having a uniform understanding… of weather products put out” by NWSO and ASDHS when it's transmitted.

She said having a better understanding of the product will help prepare the community when things happen, and there is a need to focus on the local products instead of what’s being disseminated out of Samoa so there is no confusion.

NWSO meteorologist Elinor Lutu-McMoore noted that the workshop is also to gain input on what the media needs in “order to help you do your job”. She said the media is “very important to us” in the dissemination of information during times of emergency and she described the workshop as further “strengthening of our partnership and collaboration”.

NWSO meteorologist Hans Malala presented on the outlook for the 2017-2018 season, saying the Regional Specialized Meteorological Center (RSMC) in Fiji has already released its outlook for the South Pacific, which includes American Samoa, and the outlook is 4- 6 tropical cyclones for this season.

“But for us here, it’s the same as the last season. Ours is 0-2”, he said, adding that the “risk is still high... so we still need to prepare for this tropical cyclone season even though in the past we have seen nothing; but it only takes one tropical cyclone to do all the damage, just like Puerto Rico.”

Both Malala and Lutu-McMoore said the outlook for 2017-18 is based on a number of issues like the weather pattern — La Nina — and previous cyclone data. “Of course, these are all forecasts,” McMoore said.

The Oct. 31st news release was distributed to workshop participants, and states in part that the outlook covers activity near the American Samoa basin — extends to 300 nautical miles — and does not predict whether, or how many, of these systems will directly affect the territory.

One of many issues raised by NWSO and ASDHS officials during the workshop had to do with local residents tuning in to Samoa's Radio 2AP broadcast during cyclone season, instead of listening to local stations.

The concern is there is different weather terminology used by the two Samoa, as well as winds speeds, when it comes to a storm. For example, Samoa’s Category 3 cyclone is considered a Category 2 for American Samoa — which follows the federal system.

Another example, and this caused a lot of confusion in the past, is that while the local weather office issues a Tropical Storm - Watch/Warning - with winds clocking at 39-73 mph, this is considered a Category One Warning in Samoa with 39-54 mph, according to the NWSO information page <>.

Media outlets are encouraged to disseminate weather information from local authorities, not from Samoa.

“We rely on you, so you are putting out the most accurate information and you can help,” Lutu-McMoore told media representatives.

It was also noted during the workshop that social media postings have contributed to inaccurate information being put out, and local authorities are asking media outlets to disseminate accurate information as released by NWSO and ASDHS.

Facebook was cited as one social media platform that has contributed to misinformation. The latest example was last Friday’s “tsunami advisory” following a 6.8 quake.

“We’ve started our Facebook page, and we ask our partners here and everywhere else to follow us as well as [local] Homeland Security with our messages,” said Lutu-McMoore.

Office of Samoan Affairs official Tumuatasi Apoga Custodio believes the problem is “how we take the message out there” and suggested that local radio stations get their broadcast signals out to outlying villages.

For example, at Alataua County on the western side of Tutuila, there’s bad reception or no reception at all and that’s why residents in those village listen to broadcasts from Apia, he said.

Other areas that don’t receive local radio reception are the northern shore villages of Afono, Vatia and Masefau, he pointed out.

“So it's not about the information and message, it's how to get the message out,” he continued, and suggested the need to “upgrade our communication system” to get the message to all community members.

Tumuatasi said mayors of outlying villages with no local radio signal can help when a storm is approaching, by ringing the church bell or village bell to alert villagers and others nearby.