J6.5 Weatheradio Canada Leaps Into Next Generation Public Alerting Service

Friday, 12 June 2015: 4:30 PM
304 (Raleigh Convention Center)
Denis Paquette, Environment Canada, Gatineau, QC, Canada; and K. Nuckles
Manuscript (585.7 kB)

Weatheradio Canada is a mission critical service of the Meteorological Service of Canada. This true push technology is a unique alerting broadcast service, available in Canada and the United States, that has the ability not only to broadcast continuous weather update information but also to trigger special receivers to alert users immediately after warnings have been issued.

The existing Weatheradio system in Canada , utilized since 1996 to provide this service, has reached end of life and does not have the flexibility of implementing new advancements being made in public alerting or supporting the next generation infrastructures within the Meteorological Services of Canada. The US National Weather Service has invested significant resources to develop new and innovative technology that represents substantial and unique technological advancements that can be directly applied to Weatheradio Canada today as well as propel the Meteorological Service of Canada into next generation notification services. The details of this innovative technology, how it will be applied directly to Weatheradio, and opportunities it provides for third world countries will be the subject of this session.

From 2007 through 2012, the U.S. National Weather Service (NWS) issued 2 contracts for the prototype and follow-on development of services based, geo-capable broadcast technology that has since been commercialized under the iNOTiFY brand. At the time, the primary goal of these efforts was to address the end-of-life NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) System, however the NWS was savvy enough to use this opportunity to also explore new technologies that could be used to improve and expand upon weather/warning broadcasting in general. The result is a highly flexible, standards-based, open architecture framework that can smartly disseminate weather/warning data in a variety of formats to fixed as well as mobile assets in near real time. For Canada, this technology will not only fulfill and improve upon the current Weatheradio mission of today, but it will also allow Canada to embrace new dissemination channels and methods to better align weather services with emergency management needs within Canada and abroad.

The iNOTiFY system currently being deployed throughout Canada includes two redundant hubs, each residing within a data center run by the Canadian Government. The hubs connect directly to national data feeds to receive weather/warning data, convert this data as necessary to the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) format, after which highly customizable dissemination rules are applied to disseminate the data to the affected assets. Once such asset is an environmentally ruggedized component called the ChatterBox that receives the text based alert/warning, converts it to audio and schedules the message for broadcast via the co-located FM transmitter. For Weatheradio, up to 250 ChatterBoxes will be deployed to each Weatheradio FM transmitter site. Managing the system, are a team of distributed administrators each of which will utilize the system's remote portal to perform configuration, diagnostic and maintenance tasks. A key feature of the system is its robust maintainability features that allow all administration tasks (except for hardware replacement) to be done remotely. This is critical for Canada since many of the Weatheradio transmitter sites reside in very remote locations.

Near term Weatheradio improvements to be realized by this new system include: real time alert interrupts to the ongoing FM radio broadcast; best of breed text-to-speech processing that supports finely tunable French, English, male and female voices; extremely low bandwidth utilization; and redundancy throughout the dissemination network nationwide.

Looking longer term, as an open architecture and multi-channel capability, the system will allow Canada to expand its weather/warning dissemination to include phone trees, web sites, social media, Emergency Managers and mobile users. Details of these capabilities will be explored during the session.

Lastly, Canada very much supports the provisioning of basic weather/warning services in developing world countries. Haiti is one such country that Canada is currently working with through the World Meteorological Organization to help implement a public alerting service by using the new Weatheradio technology adapted to the size and infrastructure of that country.

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