and sharpness. The NWS will also need to develop a systematic method for evaluating the effectiveness of communicating warnings to the public.
Maintaining Infrastructure Through Technology Infusion
Keeping up with advances in technology requires a continual NWS program of technology infusion. Areas to be covered by such a program include major communications and processing systems, satellites and ground processing, and ground-based radar, sensor, and gauge networks.
In each of these areas, a well-organized program of technology infusion would provide a means for the NWS to avoid becoming obsolete and requiring another massive overhaul like the MAR. This is consistent with Lesson 1 of NRC (2012a). Lesson 2 of that report found that such a technology program requires established systems engineering processes, including setting system-level requirements and performance metrics for evaluating progress toward meeting those requirements. The capability for development and testing, and a process for rapid field-testing of prototype systems, would also be an important part of the program and is discussed in further detail later in this chapter.
In the computing area, five-year-old hardware is obsolete in today’s world of rapidly advancing technology. Thus, planning and budgeting for replacement needs to begin as soon as a new generation has been deployed, if not sooner. For example, during the MAR, the information technology (IT) systems for both the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) and Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) were upgraded, in some cases before the systems were fully commissioned. These upgrades were developed through prototyping and involved interaction with the research community and the contractor. The AWIPS-II program is an example of a computing upgrade that addresses the need for systems refreshment. However, AWIPS-II is also an example of a failure to draw upon what was learned during the development and deployment of the major systems of the MAR. Rather than making continual upgrades, all upgrades were stopped almost ten years ago in anticipation of the large AWIPS-II upgrade. An example of success in the area of computing technology has been the leasing of research and operational high-performance computing assets. Leasing allows for more rapid updating of computing infrastructure and prevents the procurement of out-of-date technology.
The NWS is only one part of NOAA that feeds requirements to, and utilizes data from, the NOAA satellite systems. Therefore, processes for technology infusion related to the satellite programs need to involve NOAA management, NESDIS, and other branches, along with the NWS. It is also important to note that a “satellite system” typically consists of multiple segments, or elements, including space vehicle; instruments; launch vehicle; command, control, and communications (C3); and data processing hardware and software. Costs for each of these elements can be substantial, as can costs for development of the science versions of the data processing algorithms and program management. (These last two elements can include a large portion of government personnel.) Each of the system elements alone can be quite complex and therefore costly. These disparate elements of the system need to be specified, acquired, built, and activated synergistically as they work together to provide data and products. Exercising a well-established systems engineering process is therefore critical both for existing data observation and product continuity and for planned technology infusion.
NOAA has a relatively well-established approach to the acquisition of its satellite system elements that typically includes a process for developing instrument requirements, study and risk reduction phases involving preliminary designs, and possibly early component-builds from competitors.1 These phases of the program include both space and ground segment elements that apply to spacecraft, instruments, ground algorithms, and processing. NOAA also typically requests detailed
1 This assessment applies primarily to NOAA’s Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) and Polar Operational Environmental Satellite (POES) series. As noted in the Committee’s first report, the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS) program, while following a similar procurement process, was not managed directly by NOAA but by a tri-agency Integrated Program Office, of which NOAA was a member (GAO, 1995). NOAA, the NWS, the other agencies involved, and the enterprise as a whole have been affected by the issues encountered by the NPOESS procurement approach. The full range of lessons to be learned from that approach is beyond the scope of this report.