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NASA Upgrades Communications To Prepare For New Hurricane Season

The InsideNASA Intranet help employees at 11 facilities stay informed about office closures, evacuation procedures, and when it's safe to return to work, among other things.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) stepped-up services offered through its crisis center Web site to communicate better with employees as the hurricane season begins on June 1.

The InsideNASA Intranet, built on Vignette's Next-Generation Web Presence platform, help employees at 11 U.S. facilities stay informed about office closures, evacuation procedures and when it's safe to return to work. Information on the site also will guide employees to make a "safe-arrival call" when they reach their destination.

About half of NASA's offices are located directly in the path that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita took last year, according to Jeanne Holm, chief knowledge architect at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released North Atlantic hurricane season prediction Monday. The agency estimates between 13 and 16 storms, of which between eight and 10 could become hurricanes. About four to six could turn into "major" Category 3 hurricanes in the 2006 season.

NASA's emergency operations site now has a national warnings page that monitors hurricanes and other natural disasters, integrating with more than 2,000 links. Data on wild fires, tornados, flash floods, tsunamis, earthquakes or other disasters that provide little warning, automatically feed into feed Web site.

There's also a real-time feed from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) helps monitor theorist threat advisories. The site has approximately 130 portlets, "a small window of content, such as an animated real-time weather map," Holm said. "We also have an announcement portlet that offers all the latest information at NASA submitted by employees."

Holm said Vignette's Web-connector portlet feature made the integration simple. It takes about three minutes to create a connection that allows outside information to stream into the site. Alerts monitor connections for interruption of service if the connects breaks or the connecting sites go down

A virtual private network (VPN) provides employees remote access from virtually any device with Internet connectivity, such as a Research In Motion (RIM) Blackberry or Palm Treo. NASA employees also can call a hotline to find gas or a hotel when there not able to log into the network, Holm said. "Just for my group, we budgeted about $300,000 for the project this year," she said. "It includes personnel, management training, operations, content and disaster support, and publishing and information architecture."

It doesn't include the Vignette software or servers on which it runs, which are budgeted though another manager reporting the office of the CIO.

NOAA scientists inaccurately predicted last year's hurricane season forecasts. There were 28 tropical storms. About 15 became hurricanes. NOAA had predicted between 12 and 15 tropical storms, and estimated that seven to nine would become hurricanes.

Four major hurricanes hit the United States, including Katrina, which killed 1,300 people and caused $80 billion in damage. While Rita hit Louisiana and Texas, Wilma briefly turned into the strongest Atlantic hurricane on recorded.

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