Los Alamos IT crew creates Web link for workers

Los Alamos IT crew creates Web link for workers

Los Alamos IT crew creates Web link for workers

By Tony Lee Orr

GCN Staff

Nearly a week before Los Alamos National Laboratory managers met to decide how best to reopen the site in the wake of a raging wildfire, the lab's webmasters began keeping colleagues informed via the Internet.

A firefighter surveys the smoldering aftermath of a wildfire that threatened the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Supercomputers housed at the lab:

' Blue Mountain, the world's third fastest, helps DOE manage the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile

' Nirvana Blue helps model wildfires

Managers at Energy's lab in Los Alamos, N.M., last week began assessing damage after firefighters gained control of a wildfire that destroyed 400 homes nearby. DOE officials said the nuclear weapons lab's supercomputers remained safe, but that it could be months before the lab is fully operational.

Webmasters set up a studio in Santa Fe, N.M., that has been operational since May 11, said Jim Cruz, an integrated media specialist at the lab. The group's efforts can be seen at www.lanl.gov.

Cruz said neither the computer staff nor any other employees at the Energy Department's nuclear weapons facility has been allowed to inspect the facility. But Cruz said he has been told computer buildings at the facility were not damaged in the wildfire that for two weeks threatened the lab in Los Alamos, N.M.

Computing professionals from the lab and the private sector worked together in the off-site effort, Cruz said.

'This has set a precedent for telecomputing' at the lab, Cruz said. 'All the Web sites available have collaborated with each other to cross-link and share info and support.'

Authorities on May 16 began assessing damage to laboratories and other structures at the complex as small fires continued to burn on lab property, fueled by 50-mph winds, lab spokesman Kevin Roark said.

An Energy spokeswoman said it could be months before the lab is fully operational.

The inferno erupted May 4 when a planned and supposedly controlled fire set by the National Park Service to remove dry brush and prevent future fires raged out of control.

'We are in kind of a mopping-up mode,' Roark said.

The lab is home to the third-fastest supercomputer in the world, ASCI Blue Mountain. Another lab supercomputer, Nirvana Blue, which scientists use to model wildfires, ranks seventh on a November 1999 list of the 500 speediest computers.

Two other Los Alamos computers are in the top 300: A Cray/SGI T3D MC512-8 ranks 254th, and the lab's homemade Beowulf cluster, named Avalon, is No. 265.

The computers were never in any real danger, said Paul Schumann, another lab spokesman. He said the buildings housing the computers were designed to withstand a direct hit from a large jetliner.

Flames came within 300 yards of a plutonium storage facility and burned over bunkers housing explosives and nuclear waste, lab spokesman Tarnel Martinez said. The temperature in the explosives bunker remained steady, and radiation readings remained normal, he said.

No damage has been found at any of the main structures, but the lab lost about seven trailers to the blaze, which also destroyed five of six buildings comprising the historic V-site, where the Manhattan Project changed the course of World War II.

Phone foul-up

Los Alamos National Laboratory's Web site, at www.lanl.gov/worldview, provides fire information for employees, including links to emergency services sites and news outlets.

The only building remaining at the historic site is the High-Bay Building, where scientists put together the first nuclear bomb's explosive assembly.

The lab's supercomputers are housed underground and can be segregated from the rest of the building, Schumann said.

Except for an emergency crew, all employees were warned to stay away from the complex until ordered back to work, Energy spokesman Ki Tecumseh said. Violators are subject to disciplinary action, including termination, Energy officials said.

The blaze caused at least one problem officials were not counting on: The phone system was nearly overwhelmed because voice mail messages went unanswered for 10 days, Tecumseh said.

Messages on a call-in hotline and on Energy Web sites urged lab employees to check and delete messages to prevent overload.

The wildfire burned more than 47,000 acres, including 7,763 acres of lab property and 400 homes, and forced nearly 25,000 residents to evacuate, officials said.

Some Los Alamos residents returned to their homes last week, but 20 percent of the city remained off limits, officials said. Residents of nearby White Rock returned home earlier.

The blaze caused no reported deaths, but two firefighters suffered minor injuries.

Federal officials are investigating why a brush burn was ordered in the area despite drought warnings and National Weather Service recommendations against the burn, Energy officials said.

The Interior Department has suspended Roy Weaver, the superintendent of Bandelier National Monument who ordered the National Park Service to set the brush fire.

GCN staff writer Patricia Daukantas contributed to this report.


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