Radar troubleshooters receive award

NORMAN, OKLA. — Vice President Gore’s Hammer Award for reinventing government will be awarded today to a team of radar troubleshooters from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Air Force Weather Agency, and U.S. Navy who keep the nation’s Doppler weather network running.

Making the presentation are retired Brig. Gen. John (Jack) J. Kelly Jr., Director of the National Weather Service, and Brig. Gen. Fred Lewis, Director of Weather for the United States Air Force.

The Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) Hotline Team, based in Norman, Okla., provides telephone and onsite support to 304 radar and user sites, including thousands of NOAA’s National Weather Service, Federal Aviation Administration and Department of Defense weather forecasters and system operators.

“By shattering support industry standards for service excellence and blazing new benchmarks for real-time support to a critical weather warning system, the hotline team has earned the Hammer Award for putting customers first and achieving results important to Americans,” Kelly said. “Ultimately, all Americans benefit from the services provided by the NEXRAD hotline team.”

NEXRAD Doppler weather radar is a key component of the $4.5 billion National Weather Service modernization program. Meteorologists and electronics technicians staff the weather radar hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week from the NEXRAD Operational Support Facility in Norman, Okla. The NEXRAD hotline supports the advanced Doppler Weather Surveillance Radar System, a complex mix of computers, software, radar hardware and communication systems used by weather forecasters to identify severe storm patterns and provide early warnings to communities throughout the United States and U.S. military facilities.

The benefits of this technology are paying off today. NEXRAD Doppler weather, in part, has helped National Weather Service forecasters double the warning lead time for tornadoes to an estimated 11 minutes in 1999. Longer warning lead times potentially save lives. In fact, forecasters in Norman were able to provide lead times as long as 30 minutes for the 56 tornadoes that hit central Oklahoma May 3, including an F5 that hit the highly populated Oklahoma City metropolitan area. Testimonials from survivors credit the National Weather Service warnings with saving their lives.

Team members resolve nearly a thousand problems each month for NEXRAD radar sites and local weather offices throughout the network, enabling each site to get back in operation quickly and meet their critical warning responsibilities, according to NEXRAD Operational Support Facility Director James Belville.

In annual customer surveys, the hotline consistently scores comprehensive customer approval ratings of 93 to 95 percent, Belville said. Elsewhere throughout the support industry, approval ratings of 80 percent are considered indicative of excellence, he added.

Since 1991 when the service began, the hotline team collectively has resolved more than 60,000 customer requests for technical assistance throughout the network. Nearly 90 percent of requests are solved on the initial call, compared to an industry standard of 80 percent.

“Timely resolution of system problems to the satisfaction of our diverse customers, who are often under pressure during severe weather operations when they call, demonstrates how the hotline team puts its customers first through teamwork, technical excellence and customer focus,” Belville said.

“The result of our team’s support to customers has been extremely high availability and effectiveness of the government’s primary weather warning system, and unprecedented high quality of the radar-based weather warnings our citizens rely on to be safe,” Belville said.

Hotline team members encourage feedback to improve their services, serve as key user advocates in the planning and review of system changes, and have initiated hundreds of improvements to the radar system. They have developed “Hotline Tales,” a series of technical guidance for users published via the Internet. An innovative internal technical training program keeps the hotline team on the cutting edge as world-class system-level experts.

This is the fifth national award the team has received since the hotline began operations in November, 1991.