NWSEO Highlights Problems with AWIPS 2, Expresses Deployment Concerns
in Email to Dr. Jane Lubchenco
From: Dan Sobien [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org] Sent: Monday, April 02, 2012 3:59 PM To: email@example.com Subject: AWIPS2 Deployment
Last Thursday evening In Omaha Nebraska, the WFO issued 17 warnings using AWIPS2. None of the 17 warnings made it to the Iowa or Nebraska State Police/Emergency Managers and four of the warnings never made it to anyone (except a few listeners of NOAA Weather Radio). This is in spite of the tremendous job the NWS employees of Omaha did during this event. Forecasters also had tremendous difficulty issuing follow-up statements to the warnings because the warning boxes would essentially move after they were created which was described to me as akin to playing “Whack-A-Mole” with warning boxes. Finally, forecasters reported hundreds of apparently erroneous “error banners” popping up on their screens during the event, each one had to be cleared manually, distracting forecasters that should have been concentrating on the radar.
The NWSEO has been warning NWS management about unacceptable risks they are taking with AWIPS2 deployment for over two years; they have ignored our warnings just like they have ignored their legal obligation to bargain with us. When they do bargain with us, their word means absolutely nothing. They, quite frankly, lie to us.
While we have concerns about the safety of the people of Eastern Nebraska, we also understand the need to field test AWIPS2. That is why the NWSEO gave approval for the testing of the system not only at Omaha, but at Boulder, Colorado and Houston, Texas provided all three locations run AWIPS1 and AWIPS2 concurrently (hot backup) so that if they run into a problem with AWIPS2 they could be on AWIPS1 by just flipping a switch. Unfortunately, in the events of last Thursday the forecasters did not realize the problem until it was too late to switch to AWIPS1. It is important to note that of the three approved locations only Omaha felt comfortable enough to use AWIPS2 as their primary server; Boulder and Houston have chosen to remain on AWIPS1 as AWIPS2 has too many bugs yet to be worked out.
However, with an incredible degree of hubris on the part of NWS management that can only be due to some bureaucratically imposed deadline, the agency has now installed AWIPS2 in Norman Oklahoma, the heart of tornado alley, and they have done so without even a hot backup AWIPS1. They have done this over the strong objections of the NWSEO as well as an Unfair Labor Practice charge being submitted at the FLRA. Amazingly next week, the NWS plans to install another AWIPS2, without a hot backup in Blacksburg, Virginia. This will be followed by eight more in the month of May in Raleigh NC, Grand Rapids MI, Des Moines IA, Pueblo CO, Hastings NE, Davenport IA, Tulsa OK and State College PA. I truly hope there is a better reason for this risky and unwise decision than some manager(s) looking to gain favor and to make a name for themselves.
We face a difficult decision at the NWSEO, if we tell the media about the hubris of NWS management and the near catastrophic results, we risk the public losing confidence in NWS warnings which could result in a loss of life. If, however, we do not inform people about mismanagement at the agency, well, if the event in Omaha was a tornado event rather than hail, there could have been catastrophic loss of life. As an alternative, we thought the best course of action for now is to make sure that the highest levels of NOAA know exactly what is happening so that you can take corrective action.
We hope the NWS will be shocked back to their senses by the events of Thursday, stop the unilateral implementation of AWIPS2, and stop the unilateral implementation of the elimination of the ITO position - the same people whom the NWS is ironically counting on to fix AWIPS2. If it had not been for the ITOs in Omaha and Boulder specifically, AWIPS2 would not even be ready for field testing at this juncture. We are hoping the NWS Leadership will make these promises to you because experience shows their promises to the NWSEO are quite hollow.
If the status quo continues, I fear the outcome. After all, what has the NWS done to mitigate the terrible loss of life that occurred with the 2011 tornadoes? Let me answer that for you - nothing, in spite of the NWSEO constantly begging the agency to move forward. I just don’t know how much longer this agency can find this avoidable loss of life acceptable. Clearly the NWS management has lost the confidence of their employees. Our moral dilemma is whether to inform the American Public that they should not have their confidence either.
Daniel A. Sobien
National Weather Service Employees Organization www.nwseo.org