Monitoring Station Operators from all over the world gather in Vienna
Operations and Maintenance Workshop for station operators concludes
What do the Olympic Games and an Operation & Maintenance Workshop for station managers of the International Monitoring System (IMS) have in common? At least more than might be expected at first glance: Both events take place at a quadrennial rhythm – the last one this year - and participants constantly try to excel in a number of pre-determined disciplines. A total of 173 met in Vienna from 10 to 14 November 2008. The gathering included station operators from 47 Member States, equipment providers and staff of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). The station operators are directly responsible for running the IMS monitoring stations. When completed, the Earth will be monitored continuously to detect nuclear explosions by a worldwide network of 337 sensitive monitoring stations and laboratories that comprise the IMS. Over 230 of these stations are already sending data to the CTBTO’s International Data Centre (IDC) in Vienna on a provisional basis, see interactive map. This unique system is designed to detect nuclear explosions anywhere on the planet – in the oceans, underground, or in the atmosphere. In this way, it will monitor compliance with the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT), which bans all nuclear explosions on Earth. The four ‘disciplines’ in which the IMS constantly strives to improve Four different verification technologies are used in synergy to detect and identify signals from nuclear explosions:
- seismic stations “feeling” the Earth’s mantle for shockwaves caused by nuclear explosions;
- hydroacoustic stations “listening” to the oceans for sound waves;
- infrasound stations “listening” to the atmosphere for infrasound waves that are inaudible to the human ear;
- radionuclide stations “sniffing” for radioactive particles or noble gases emitted from a nuclear explosion.
“Our common purpose is to have the best, and I mean the best global network of monitoring stations in the world (…) with the highest reliability, the best timeliness, the best availability, the best quality.”
Station operators ensure high-quality data harvesting – under any conditions
As the station operators are at the source of the IMS’s measuring data, the overall level of performance of the verification system greatly depends on their ability to operate and maintain the state-of-the-art equipment. The station operators’ tasks include the prevention or quick remedy of malfunctions in any of the station’s critical components, be it the power supply, the communications system, or the scientific measuring device itself. For remote stations such as on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic or in the Antarctica, this can pose a considerable challenge. Some stations are situated in locations frequently affected by natural phenomena such as lightning, flooding or storms, which are likely to cause the station’s system to malfunction. No matter how great the difficulties, the station managers must ensure that their station meets the ambitious benchmark proscribed in the Treaty: data from IMS stations must be available 98% (95% for hydroacoustic stations) of the time. This high quality standard is meant to ensure the CTBTO’s Member States that no clandestine nuclear test goes undetected.
Protecting a one billion dollar investment
The workshop, which was jointly chaired by the directors of the CTBTO’s IDC and IMS divisions, Lassina Zerbo and Federico Guendel, built upon the experience from previous workshops conducted in 2000 and 2004. Both divisions have recently undergone major restructuring to reflect the organization’s gradual shift from the build-up of the IMS stations towards their operation and maintenance as more and more stations become operational. Zerbo highlighted that operation and maintenance of the IMS stations is crucial for preserving the investment made by CTBTO Member States, which amounts to about one billion dollars. The main emphasis of the 2008 workshop was to enhance co-ordination of the roles of the different actors involved in the maintenance and operation of IMS stations; the station operators themselves, the CTBTO, equipment providers, host countries and contractors. In order to meet the high standards set out in the Treaty and to be prepared for all eventualities, workshop participants discussed plans such as supply and spare parts management strategies. There was special focus also on the constant technological progress in all verification technologies, software and equipment and the impact on station maintenance and operation. See for the workshop's agenda. All in all, a total of 68 recommendations were discussed and adopted.
"Our role here is to serve you, is to serve the Member States, is to make sure that our co-operation works in a way that is best for this monitoring system, this wonderful monitoring system that we are all proud of."
Thousands of experts worldwide constantly working on improving CTBT verification
The Operation & Maintenance Workshop is one of about 15 workshops organized annually by the CTBTO. The workshops are conducted either in Vienna or – in the case of workshops with a regional focus – in Member States in all parts of the world. Several thousand experts from most of the organization’s 180 Member States regularly work together to maintain and improve the capabilities of the CTBT’s verification regime. In addition to the large Operations & Maintenance Workshops, the CTBTO conducts about six station operator training courses per year, which usually focus on special regions, technologies or equipment. To reduce costs and carbon footprint, the CTBTO is implementing an e-learning system for station operators that will allow for remote training. The programmes are currently being developed in all six UN languages with the first modules available in 2009.