NOS Assistant Administrator Weekly Update

March 12, 2020

This week, I've asked Kate Wheelock, chief of NOS's Disaster Preparedness Program (DPP), to share what the DPP is doing to work with all NOS offices in response to COVID-19, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. Your health and safety is my top priority, and I am grateful that the DPP is available to help us throughout this challenging situation.

— Nicole

Greetings NOS Colleagues:

As the chief of the NOS Disaster Preparedness Program and Incident Coordinator for the NOS Incident Management Team (IMT), I’ve been asked to provide information on our COVID-19 reporting processes, along with other relevant information for your situational awareness. The NOS IMT was activated on March 2, 2020, to collect information on NOS impacts to personnel, mission, and infrastructure related to COVID-19. The IMT, composed of representatives from every NOS program and staff office, develops daily situation reports in the NOS Disaster Coordination Dashboard.

Each day the information collected is also reported, as appropriate, to NOAA’s Homeland Security Program Office and NOS leadership. I want to sincerely thank these IMT members for their sustained and thorough reporting on this growing and serious issue, while keeping individuals’ privacy at the forefront of all reporting. This process for collecting situational awareness and collaboration is critical to ensuring that NOS and NOAA leadership understand the totality of this emerging event, have a common understanding of the rapidly developing policies and procedures, and can make informed decisions about how to keep the NOS workforce safe while continuing to execute our mission.

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. A pandemic is a global spread of a new disease. Conventional wisdom says that the number of confirmed cases is significantly lower than the actual number infected due to a nationwide dearth of available tests for the disease. Therefore, as this virus spreads and tests become more widely available, we can expect to see the number of confirmed cases in the United States increase rapidly. It is only a matter of time before you or someone you know is impacted by COVID-19, if not infected.

To protect the workplace to the best of our ability, it is important for staff to report confirmed cases while also respecting medical privacy. The following actions are recommended if you or one of your staff tests positive for COVID-19:

  • Follow all medical directions for treatment, quarantine, and/or isolation,
  • Notify your supervisor, and
  • You or your supervisor should:
    • Determine how best to notify staff who may have been exposed, while respecting privacy.
    • Notify your IMT representative of the positive case, while respecting privacy.
    • Report the case to NOAA’s Safety and Environmental Compliance Office (SECO) using this confidential Google Form, entitled ‘Reporting of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Illness or Potential Exposure.’

Please remember that for a large majority of the population, the symptoms are minor and recovery is expected. However, we know that vulnerable populations (elderly and those with underlying health conditions) have a much harder time combatting the virus. Let’s do our best to limit the spread and help protect everyone. If you are unsure about which decisions to make, please consult your supervisor.

Lastly, it’s important to remain patient in this fluid and unprecedented situation. Information and processes may change and crystalize as we learn more. In these situations, I like to keep top of mind a quote from a former oceanographer in the OR&R Emergency Response Division, Glen “Bushy” Watabayashi, “We reserve the right to be smarter later.”

Thank You,

Kate Wheelock
Chief, NOS Disaster Preparedness Program

Weekly Website Highlight

Women ocean scientists have been making waves at NOAA for more than 150 years.
Making Waves: Notable Women in Ocean Science

In recognition of Women’s History Month, we’re honoring a few notable women with careers tied to ocean science. While this list is by no means comprehensive, it pays homage to some of the women who defied social convention and paved the way for scientists, regardless of their gender, to protect, study, and explore the ocean and ocean life.

Program Office Highlights

Marking the completion of its active projects, NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program protected four Great Lakes properties totaling 273 acres. These acquisitions include coastal lands along lakes Michigan and Erie in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. Their protection safeguards undeveloped shorelines, coastal tributaries, and an estuary in one of the region's fastest growing counties. These ecologically important lands will be maintained and restored, and will also provide areas for hiking, cross-country skiing, and kayaking. Over the past two decades, the program has permanently protected 110,000 acres of coastal habitats. Much of the program’s work over the years was done in partnership with the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.


Students in OCS’s nautical cartography certification program toured a special collection at the Library of Congress — the Geography and Map Division. This treasure trove is the largest and most comprehensive cartographic collection in the world. Field trips like this one enrich the program and give the students a greater appreciation of the long tradition of marine cartography. Another trip, planned for this summer, will take place aboard a working boat and show how professional mariners use NOAA’s navigational products. OCS’s internationally recognized certification program works to ensure use of best practices and adherence to worldwide standards among nautical cartographers. Nearly three dozen students have participated in the program since its start three years ago.


According to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, major enhancements to the geodetic infrastructure are needed to satisfy emerging scientific needs. The report, Evolving the Geodetic Infrastructure to Meet New Scientific Needs, compares the capabilities of the current geodetic infrastructure with those needed to answer high-priority research questions from 2017–2027. The report indicates that essential questions and predictions about sea level rise, water resources, geological hazards, and disaster resilience cannot be answered accurately without updates to the international terrestrial reference frame. NGS is already working to modernize NOAA’s part of the national geodetic infrastructure: the National Spatial Reference System, which includes the Continuously Operating Reference Stations and the NGS Gravity Program.


CO-OPS has completed its annual update of local relative sea level trends across the United States. CO-OPS calculates sea level trends at any of its water level stations that have over 30 years of data. All of these U.S. coastal stations experienced an uptick in their sea level trend in 2019, except Apra Harbor, Guam, and along the Pacific Coast between Garibaldi, Oregon, and Anchorage, Alaska. This year, the station in Panama City Beach, Florida, was added to the website, having crossed the 30-year threshold.


An NCCOS-funded study shows that more accurate marsh elevation data is needed to predict future coastal marsh conditions in response to sea level rise. The study, published in the Journal of Selected Topics in Applied Earth Observations and Remote Sensing, indicates that on-site measurements using satellite-based positioning are required; aerial measurements (i.e., lidar) alone are not sufficient. Without satellite-based measurements, accurate predictions of marsh habitat type are difficult to achieve. This is particularly true in microtidal marshes, which have a tidal range (elevation difference between high and low tide) less than 2 meters. Accurate predictions of the effects of sea level rise are critical to coastal ecosystem and community resilience.


Kate Wheelock
Chief, NOS Disaster Preparedness Program

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