NEXRAD crew is ready when hotline gets wind of trouble

NEXRAD crew is ready when hotline gets wind of trouble


'No two days are ever the same,' Daryl L. Covey said. 'There are dead days, and then all hell breaks loose.'

That's an apt description of life on the receiving end of hotlines everywhere, but Covey was referring specifically to the Next-Generation Weather Radar help desk in Norman, Okla. Covey, NEXRAD's chief of field support, and 13 other rotating personnel provide support around the clock to thousands of NEXRAD users worldwide.

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size="2" color="#FF0000">Dan Frashier mans a hotline workstation.

The hotline, operated jointly since 1992 by the Commerce, Defense and Transportation departments, tells on-site technicians how to fix not just complex computer and communications systems but also massive radar tower equipment.

NEXRAD crises range from malfunctioning hard drives and software to damage by lightning and tornadoes.

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size="2" color="#FF0000">At top, members of the NEXRAD hotline staff, which has won several awards for its work, show off a Hammer Award from June 1999. Staff members pictured are, from left, Dan Berkowitz, Mark Albertelly, Cindy Chrisman, Jimmy Roger, Mike Shattuck, Alan Free, Bill Taylor and Paul Conroy, who has since been rotated to Italy. At bottom left, the NEXRAD Radar Operations Center located on the Research Park campus of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. At bottom right, chief Daryl L. Covey says receiver calibration is the toughest call.

'Ninety-nine percent of the trouble calls are resolved by walking the site people through the repairs,' Covey said.

Radar receiver calibration is the most difficult assignment, he said. A 30-foot radar dish sits atop a tower weighing tens of thousands of pounds, and sometimes a technician must deal with potentially lethal 75-kilovolt connections.

Online manuals

To track the calls about hardware and software trouble, the hotline staff uses Help Desk Expert Automation Tool from Front -Range Solutions Inc. of Colorado Springs, Colo. The tool stores online manuals and documentation for all the equipment and categorizes the trouble calls.


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'We've stayed with the same tracking software for 11 years,' Covey said.

The hotline personnel have stayed pretty much the same, too. 'We have low turnover, about a third the industry average,' he said. He attributed it to the fact that people 'feel challenged to grow professionally. We back them and try to keep ahead of the curve to accept new technology. As it evolves, we continually retrain.'

Later this year, the hotline staff will talk 310 NEXRAD user sites through rehosting their systems on SunSoft Solaris platforms, abandoning OS/32 from Concurrent Computer Corp. of Duluth, Ga.

'We're rehosting jointly with the National Weather Service and the National Severe Storms Laboratory,' Covey said. 'NWS will go first, then DOD and the Federal Aviation Administration. We're taking a geographic approach as a safety net. Once a CPU is replaced, there's no going back. The testers are being very thorough.'

Last year, GCN presented one of its annual Government Information Technology Agency Awards to NEXRAD.


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