Helping the National Weather Service improve its performance

Christopher Kocher - Andrea Bleistein

With an increase in the number of deadly and costly severe weather events, the National Weather Service has been seeking to step up its game by providing better information in a timelier manner to communities, states, emergency responders and the public.

Andrea Bleistein is playing a critical role in helping the agency institute this new roadmap for change—a plan designed to improve the way the weather services does business and enhance its ability to save lives and property.

Who is Andrea Bleistein?

POSITION: Weather-Ready Nation Roadmap Execution Manager, National Weather Service (NWS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

RESIDENCE: Arlington, Va..

AGE: 30

EDUCATION: Pennsylvania State University, B.S. in meteorology; Virginia Tech, M.S.in science and technology studies

HOBBIES: Kickboxing, cooking, reading, traveling with her husband

VOLUNTEER WORK: American Meteorological Society member and co-chair of the Commission on the Weather and Climate Enterprise's Board on Enterprise Strategic Topics

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As a manager supporting the agency’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative, Bleistein assists and, in some cases, prods the staff to implement changes outlined in the long term plan. This includes making new investments in science and technology, creating pilot projects to provide better assistance to states and localities, coming up with innovative ways to improve communication through the use of social media, identifying new research to meet pressing needs and finding ways to support the workforce.

“I’m a facilitator in a lot of ways. I’m helping coordinate the changes to make us more relevant in the future,’ said Bleistein. “We take feedback at the local level. We make recommendations to senior executives. When people are creating program plans for the year, we look and say, ‘You are not going where you should be going and you might reassess the process.”

Bleistein said her job may involve helping to set up, evaluate and expand new initiatives such as dispatching a weather service meteorologist to a city bracing for a severe storm. Or she said it might mean working with staff to make sure that new technology is working and meeting intended goals.

Chris Strager, Bleistein’s supervisor, said his colleague “thinks about the big picture” while attending to the details. He said she is aware of how things work at headquarters and at the weather’s service’s 122 forecast field offices, and is able to communicate up and down the line.

“That’s what impressed me so much about her. She has the rare ability to do that at such an early age,” Strager said.

While each initiative and project has specific objectives, Bleistein said, the bottom line is to improve the weather forecasting so that governmental officials, private business and the public are armed with information that allows them to respond with the best course of action.

“We want them to understand not only what the weather is going to do, but we’re helping them identify what are their risks from a storm or flood,” said Bleistein.

To hone the weather service’s forecasting and response methods, Bleistein helped set up six community-based pilot projects in the Gulf Coast, the South and the mid-Atlantic. The projects are testing communication and support for urban and coastal areas and looking at how regional and national levels make decisions on responding to the impact of severe weather.

During a recent rash of tornados, Bleistein said the weather service used Twitter and other social media to provide public alerts, helping people “take preparedness activities earlier to avoid danger.” She said her office hopes to build on this success.

Bleistein’s interest in weather forecasting started a long time ago. Her father was the type who would see a thunder storm coming and beckon Bleistein to come open the windows and watch as it blew in. “I was one of those kids raised by a dad really into amateur radio and I listened to weather with my dad during a storm,” she said.

As a young girl, she reported the weather at her school bus stop and debated the day’s forecast with a friend who watched a different television meteorologist.

Bleistein started in college as engineering major, but once she switched to meteorology, she said, she “never looked back.”

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washingtonpost.com. Go to www.servicetoamericamedals.org to nominate a federal employee for a Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medal and http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/fedpage/players/ to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

 
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