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CHIPS Articles: Mitigating Weather Hazards

Mitigating Weather Hazards
By Steven Krumm - July-September 2007
The Surface Combat Systems Center performs vital work focused on Program Executive Office Integrated Warfare Systems (IWS) program development, life cycle engineering, fleet operator and combat information center team training, and in-service engineering.

The center, a shore-based field activity under Naval Sea Systems Command, is located on Wallops Island, a barrier island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The combat systems we support and the ocean range of Wallops Island are unique and do not exist anywhere else. The collocation of these systems provides a strong environment for strike group integration and interoperability test support.

Capabilities include all fleet Aegis and Ship Self-defense Systems and networks that support ships' warfare systems interoperability, integration and deployment readiness.

The addition of our new Ship Self-Defense Facility complements our Aegis cruiser and destroyer combat systems with aircraft carrier and amphibious combat systems. Some of these events use live test assets, such as manned or drone aircraft, balloons and sensitive ground apparatus. Personnel operating equipment are often located on an exposed shoreline. Further, maintenance of permanent exterior equipment requires personnel to go aloft or be exposed to the elements in outside locations.

Barrier islands are narrow strips of sand, dirt and grass tufts that run parallel to a main shoreline and are particularly vulnerable to storms. Severe weather, such as thunderstorms, coastal flooding, extreme winter conditions, tornadoes and hurricanes, presents a hazard to test and maintenance personnel and often results in power surges and interruptions that can cause damage to systems and equipment and can disrupt testing and training events.

To mitigate the risks associated with hazardous weather conditions, SCSC managers need information about developing storms to protect personnel and equipment.

Initially, management considered subscribing to a commercial weather service, but were concerned about the recurring costs and the vulnerabilities associated with relying on Internet service.

After evaluating several options, SCSC chose EMWIN, the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network, to obtain and disseminate accurate and authoritative data. The National Weather Service (NWS), an agency of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration within the Department of Commerce, uses radio, satellite and Internet broadcasts for disseminating the EMWIN data stream. EMWIN was designed to assist emergency managers and public safety officials, but the information is available to anyone at no cost.

The only cost to the user is the modest fee for procuring and installing the hardware and software necessary to receive and process the EMWIN data stream and disseminate the weather products.

The EMWIN products include: Next Generation Weather Radar, a composite of 158 high-resolution Doppler radars, Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite images, storm prediction center maps, text forecasts, weather alerts, Amber Alerts, and more.

All products, such as the Watch, Warning, Advisory Display, are automatically sent to client workstations. Text alerts, such as special weather statements, are sent automatically by e-mail or telephone pager messages based on user selected criteria.

There are three data stream ingest methods: direct satellite, radio broadcast and the Internet. The direct satellite ingest method uses transmissions from the two NWS Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites, which cover North and South America and much of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The radio broadcast ingest method requires that an EMWIN re-transmitter, which is operated and maintained by local governments or amateur ham radio clubs, be located in your area. An inexpensive radio receiver and antenna are also required. The Internet method requires a full-time Internet connection.

SCSC management decided to use the radio broadcast method since there is a local EMWIN re-transmitter. The direct satellite ingest method would have cost about $1,000 more and the Internet method could be affected by severe weather or other emergencies that could disrupt the public telephone infrastructure, causing the Internet connection to be lost — just when weather data are needed most.

Figure 1 illustrates the Surface Combat Systems Center EMWIN system. The SCSC system is installed in a small office building; the server is connected to the base wide area network and an analog telephone line. The system consists of a very high frequency radio receiver, VHF vertical antenna, workstation, EMWIN software and interconnecting cables. The VHF radio receiver is a Zephyrus WX-3, which was designed for EMWIN and can receive and decode both 1,200 and 9,600 baud data transmission.

The receive frequency is set using a front-panel DIP switch, which is a series of tiny switches built into the circuit boards. The housing for the switches, which has the same shape as a chip, is the DIP. DIP switches enable you to configure a circuit board for a particular type of computer or application. DIP switches toggle to on or off. Software is included to compute the DIP switch settings for your local EMWIN re-transmitter frequency.

The receiver is connected to the workstation serial port. The antenna is a Cushcraft AR-2 VHF Vertical. This antenna is small and covers a wide frequency range. A chart is included to set the length of the antenna for your local frequency, but tuning is not critical. The antenna was installed in the attic of a small office building. It is connected to the receiver using RG-213 coaxial cable.

The workstation we selected is a Dell Dimension 4100 running the Windows 2000 operating system. It is used as both the system server and administrator workstation. The total cost for the equipment was less than $1,000.

SCSC uses Weather Message 2.2 EMWIN software, which is Navy Marine Corps Intranet and Department of the Navy Applications and Database Management System approved (DADMS No. 27805). The software processes the data stream and automatically pushes weather products to client workstations over the network.

To set up the software, select the ingest method and set up the serial port and modem configurations. Then create alarm groups, add user e-mail addresses and telephone pager numbers. Finally, enter the EMWIN alarm criteria.

Then select the alarm parameters by selecting the weather product identification and a Weather Forecast Office for the state and county that will cause an alarm to trigger. Choosing too many alarms may cause users to complain of interruptions, but selecting too few may result in insufficient warnings for hazardous weather alerts.

Special weather statements, watches and warnings for our local area are sent to an e-mail group of managers and technicians. Severe weather warnings are additionally sent to the command duty officer by telephone pager text message. We have found a balance where there have been no weather surprises and only a little mild kidding from some users about "the weather machine filling up my inbox over the weekend." For example, in a major storm, six messages may be received in a 24-hour period.

The only routine maintenance required for EMWIN is adding and removing personnel from the e-mail list. The system automatically purges old weather products.

Supervisors consider winter weather warnings when scheduling night or weekend shift personnel. High wind warnings prompt the storage of portable satellite antennas. Maintenance managers routinely use EMWIN weather statements when planning to send personnel aloft to perform maintenance on mast or roof equipment and antennas.

Prior warning of hazardous weather can allow sufficient time for SCSC managers to take appropriate precautionary measures to ensure safety of personnel and mitigate damage to equipment.

Steven Krumm is the Combat Systems Technology division head (Code C11) of the Surface Combat Systems Center.

Figure 1. Surface Combat Systems Center, EMWIN system.
Figure 1. Surface Combat Systems Center, EMWIN system.
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