School weather data enlisted to fight terror

Schools participating in a network of more than 6,000 local weather stations across the country soon might play an important role in helping the government hasten its response in the event of another terrorist attack. AWS Convergence Technologies Inc. of Gaithersburg, Md., the private company that operates the network, is making its weather data available through a partnership with the National Weather Service. The pact reportedly will bolster the government’s ability to protect lives and property. The agreement, announced Aug. 6, gives the Weather Service access to data being collected by AWS WeatherNet stations, the majority of which are located in schools. In the event of a biological or other terrorist attack, this could greatly improve the mapping and forecasting of local air movement, so the military and emergency-response managers could make crucial decisions such as which areas need to be evacuated first. Weather information has long played a pivotal role in the government’s ability to respond to major disasters. Following the Sept. 11 attack at the World Trade Center, for example, the Weather Service set up a network of weather stations around the site to collect wind data and predict the spread of smoke and dust. If the new agreement had been in place then, data would have been available from more than 40 AWS WeatherNet stations in the area, significantly improving the government’s ability to respond, according to the company. AWS President Bob Marshall said that after the terrorist attacks he decided to offer the company’s assistance if needed in the future.

At the same time, he said, the agreement is also a great learning opportunity for schools, where most AWS weather stations are located. It helps engage both teachers and students, and it shows them how the data can be applied to another use. “The unique value and quality of highly localized, up-to-the second information … is critical for homeland security and emergency response applications,” Marshall said. National Weather Service director Jack Kelly welcomed the program.

“AWS stepped up to the plate in response to the president’s call for American companies to support homeland security,” Kelly said. With its WeatherNet stations, which are concentrated mostly in urban areas, AWS says it has the largest private weather network in the world. The service is affiliated with nearly 100 local broadcasters, who use it to provide neighborhood information in their reports and to improve local forecasts. Students at participating schools use high-quality, commercial-grade weather sensors in conjunction with meteorological software and internet technology to measure 27 different weather parameters, such as wind speed and direction, temperature, relative humidity, and barometric pressure.

The data are sent in real time via the internet to AWS’s national WeatherNet network, where they are available to local broadcasters and other participating schools. Teachers can incorporate the data into their lessons, and AWS also supplies interactive lesson plans that make use of the WeatherNet data.

Data from the AWS weather network won’t be used in routine daily forecasting by the Weather Service, but will be available without charge whenever needed for emergency uses, agency officials said.

See these related links:

AWS Convergence Technologies Inc.

WeatherNet Classroom

National Weather Service

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