Storm chasers find NOAA's Web site

National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

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The current hurricane season has been a challenge for those living in Florida and along the Gulf Coast — and the stiffest test yet for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Web site.

As Hurricane Ivan ravaged the Gulf Coast last week, officials at the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center, which houses the books for government employees' Thrift Savings Plan in New Orleans, mailed their backup databases to safe locations. But they could not save their Web site from a preventive shutdown.

"We expect to be back up no later than Monday," said Tom Trabucco, director of external affairs for the Thrift Investment Board. The plan's 3.3 million participants should be able to access their accounts by Sept. 20.

In anticipation of meteorological havoc, Homeland Security Department officials followed Hurricane Ivan closely. Officials at DHS' Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Directorate are assessing the vulnerabilities and potential impact to critical infrastructure located in the storm's projected path. Based on these assessments, DHS officials will work with private-sector partners and state and local government officials during the recovery phase.

Aircraft from Immigration and Customs Enforcement helped transport Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to and from sites. They also flew over the storm's path after it made landfall to collect high-resolution images for damage assessment. The data allows FEMA officials to better target areas in need of immediate help.

Also collecting up-to-the-minute, high-resolution images, NOAA's Web site has received a record number of hits during this hurricane season. In the first eight days of September, the site received 200 million hits — equivalent to one-third of the total traffic for all of 2003, when the United States was hit by one hurricane, Isabel.

"The hurricanes have put our stats off the charts this year," said Greg Hernandez, NOAA's online editor. "We've been so busy trying to stay on the air."

To free bandwidth after a Sept. 9 hurricane warning, NOAA officials took down their weather Web logs, which represented more than 10G of information. The agency's information technology staff now logs that data manually.

"These ladies and gentlemen have been working 24/7," Hernandez said. "It's nice to know I wasn't alone at two in the morning."

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