NASA on Hurricanes

It’s that time of year. Hurricane season is upon us, and NASA is stepping up its services to better communicate with employees through its intranet. Good thing too, because half of NASA’s offices are smack in the middle of the path Katrina and Rita took to land last year. 

The InsideNASA intranet, built on Vignette’s Next-Generation web Presence platform, help employees at 11 US 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.

… 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."

… 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 US$300,000 for the project this year," she said. "It includes personnel, management training, operations, content and disaster support, and publishing and information architecture."

Makes sense, since NASA has something of an inside track when it comes to advance info on hurricanes. Metroblogging New Orleans posted that NASA’s satellite study of Rita last summer yielded an interesting discovery about what’s behind the strength of some hurricanes.  

Using a satellite last summer to study hurricane Rita from above, scientists discovered that towering clouds near the storm’s eye were good predictors of future storm strength.

… Specifically, if hot towers are active at least 33 percent of the time during a three-hour period, surface winds have an 82 percent chance of intensifying. Making such measurements on the fly could improve the forecast of a storm’s strength just prior to landfall.

Here’s hoping more accurate forecasts combined with getting information out faster will lead to getting more people out of the path of the next big hurricane.