Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) Hardware
The Advanced Weather Interactive
Processing System (AWIPS) is a technologically advanced information processing,
display, and telecommunications system that is the cornerstone of the National
Weather Service (NWS) modernization and restructuring. AWIPS is an interactive
computer system that integrates all meteorological and hydrological data,
and all satellite and radar data, for the first time, and enables the forecaster to prepare and issue more accurate and timely
forecasts and warnings.
AWIPS Hardware Upgrades Test Process
The Test and Evaluation Branch (OPS24) tests most AWIPS hardware upgrades to prepare the installations for deployment to the NWS
field offices. Software testing is conducted by the AWIPS Prime Contractor and field beta testing is conducted by the AWIPS
Support Branch (OPS21). The hardware field tests are called Operational Acceptance Tests (OAT) and follow a prescribed sequence
and principles to deliver the new hardware smoothly with as little impact on NWS field operations as possible.
The hardware testing begins with planning the change. The AWIPS contractor develops the changes following direction from the
Office of Science and Technology AWIPS program. During the development, the changes are engineered, tested on the contractor’s
test beds, installation instructions are developed and then delivered to OST engineers. Once the installation instructions are
turned into a draft AWIPS System Maintenance Note (mod note), preliminary testing begins. The contractor is requested to minimize
operational down time, data down time, and impact on the forecast staff.
Prior to performing any tests on a field system, the modification must be tested with the draft mod note on one or more test
bed systems. Typically the test bed used is one or more of the NMT systems located in SSMC2. This test must give the test director
confidence that no critical failure is likely to occur in the next field installation. If the director does not have this
confidence, then additional test bed installations are scheduled. The mod note is updated with all the corrections found during
the test bed installations and tests. None of the test beds provide more than the baseline AWIPS system and software. They do
not attempt to duplicate any field site’s operations which includes local applications, local data ingest, local scripts and the
way forecasters actually use the system. This introduces more risk in the test bed testing and it is recognized that there is
always a risk of critical failures occurring in the field offices.
Once the test director is satisfied the modification has reasonable risk, the next step is testing at one or more regional
headquarters systems. These systems are a step closer to operational systems within their region, but are not operational and
can withstand potential down time better than a true field system. Typically, a test team travels to the site to witness the
installation and test. The mod note is updated again with the corrections based on the regional headquarters systems.
If the test director is satisfied with the risk level based on testing at the test bed and regional headquarters, then the first
field site is tested. Typically a Weather Forecast Office (WFO) system is chosen and a test team travels to the site. The staff
at the site under the supervision of the Electronics System Analyst performs the modification following the updated draft mod note.
Technical support is provided by the contractor by telephone and remote access to the test site AWIPS at any time needed.
The AWIPS Network Control Facility (NCF) also provides support and is gaining skill
during the testing to be able to support field sites on their own once it goes to deployment. The NCF assigns a specialist to
support each modification. They are invited to attend the first installations in SSMC2. The mod note is again updated with the
necessary changes. The installation scripts and software are also modified by the contractor as needed and updated on the
subsequent test sites.
Typically the second site will be a River Forecast System (
RFC) with a test team on site to witness the installation. RFCs are significantly different in how they use and set up AWIPS.
There are almost always challenges to the installation that must be fixed in the RFC installation.
If the modification is a high risk, a test team may travel to additional WFOs and/or RFCs before releasing the remainder of test
sites to install on their own following the mod note. OCONUS and National Center sites may also be included in the test team
travels when the modification presents unique challenges to these systems.
Once the mod note and the installations are judged stable by the test team, the test directory will release the draft note to
the remaining test sites. These sites will perform the modification on their own with only NCF support as needed. They report
their experience and results to the test director. If serious problems occur in these sites that are not resolved quickly by the
NCF, the test director engages the contractor engineering support to find the problem and resolve it quickly. The mod notes are
updated after each installation as needed and sent to the remaining sites to use.
This process results in the majority of serious problems and difficult to understand directions to be smoothed and fixed prior
to deployment in the field. The NCF is able to support the field and handle 4-6 installations a day.
All test sites retain the option of stopping the test when they judge it necessary whether it is due to weather or unacceptable
system problems. The AWIPS Regional Focal Points also have the ability to stop testing at their sites when they judge the system
to be too risky to operations. If this happens, the OAT is suspended until the problems are fixed, then retested following the
The AWIPS OATs are performed on approximately 10% of the systems and include all the types of operational systems: WFOs,
Collocated WFOs, RFCs, National Centers, Regional Headquarters, and OCONUS sites. The OAT does not attempt to resolve the
sometimes unique issues related to non-operational sites such as COMET, or the headquarters operational systems.