[telecom] NYC area emergency "weather station" off the air

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has operated a nationwide network of radio transmitters providing full time weather reports and forecasts for decades now, dating back to their "Weather Bureau" days.

As I wrote in a note way back in Oct 2005 [a], where I discussed the lack of backup power to many of their facilities:

"These stations are part of the _real_ emergency network and are supposed to stay up after anything short of a direct nuclear hit."

Ok, I'm exaggerating a touch. But still...

There are numerous radio receivers that can pick up these stations, with many of them in a "silent/squelch mode" until activated.

In case of a local hazardous/emergency situation such as a hurricane, tornado, flood, chemical spill, nuclear reactor plant breach, or.. national events up to and including nuclear attack, the transmitters send out an alert tone which "unlocks" the receivers and activates the loudspeakers.

Hence just about every "911 PSAP" (public safety answering position), utility headquarters, transit operations center, many tv/radio stations, and... thousands and thousands of people living in tornado/hurricane/flood zones, have these radios. Hence it's critical that the system stay up.

Recently friends of mine in NYC noted that the local station, covering perhaps 15 million people, was repeatedly off the air for the past two months.

Finally, after many complaints to NOAA, they posted a note on their "outages" web page confirming the problem. And then, a few days later, came up with the startling reason that...

(quoting from the page [b]):

SPECIAL NOTICE NEW YORK CITY, NY Transmitter (KWO35) Frequency 162.550

Due to interference issues with the U.S. Coast Guard, the New York City transmitter has been temporarily taken out of service while a solution is being formulated.

Yes. Really. And no one is willing to simply "roll back" the systems to the way they were three months ago.

The Big Problem here (aside from the lack of urgency by all the folk involved) is that many, make that MANY, people and agencies are counting on this working. Folk using the radios in "squelch" (silent) mode are relying on them to "open up" in an emergency, yet have no way to know the system is dead.

It's kind of like depending on your overhead sprinklers and not knowing that the main water valve is off. Or not knowing your smoke detector battery is dead.

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- since the NOAA outage page is dynamic and, hopefully, real soon now, will change when the system is finally fixed, I've mirrored that image up at:

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danny burstein
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