Thousands of experts worldwide working together to enhance test-ban verification

Figuring less prominently in the public perception of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) than the network of monitoring stations but equally unique, is the worldwide network of dedicated experts working behind the scenes: operators of the monitoring stations and the National Data Centres, equipment providers and CTBTO staff. Several thousand experts from most of the organization’s 178 Member States regularly work together to maintain and improve the capabilities of the International Monitoring System (IMS). They meet in up to 15 workshops organized annually by the CTBTO, either in Vienna or – in the case of  workshops with a regional focus – in Member States in all parts of the world. The workshops, which account for roughly US$ 2 million annually of the CTBTO’s budget, cover the entire range of verification and communication techniques and are often multi-disciplinary. They can essentially be grouped into three categories:

Ensuring high quality data harvesting

The first focuses on the “producers” of the raw data transmitted by the stations, i.e. the station operators. Their ability to operate and maintain the state-of-the-art measuring equipment correctly is crucial for the functioning of the entire system. As the technology in all four verification techniques – seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound and radionuclide - constantly evolves, the station operators require regular training.

Operations and Maintenance Workshop for station operators in November 2008

The next training opportunity for station operators is the upcoming Operations and Maintenance Workshop. Station operators from all over the world will meet with equipment providers and CTBTO staff in Vienna from 10 – 14 November 2008. The discussions will focus on how to maintain 100% reliability of the stations even under difficult conditions; to better co-ordinate the roles of the different actors involved; and to further improve the network’s performance and sustainability. This event is still open for registration. [] [ PDF ]

Assisting Member States in evaluating data

A second kind of workshop aims at assisting the “consumers”, i.e. the operators at the National Data Centres in Member States, who receive the data after it has been screened and refined by the CTBTO. Since it is these National Data Centres and not the CTBTO who make the final assessment on whether a detected event was actually a nuclear test or not, their staff require the necessary technical means and expertise. Here the CTBTO’s focus is on assisting developing countries.

Over 1000 users registered to receive data from the CTBTO

As of August 2008, the number of secure signatory accounts has crossed the threshold of 1000. 1011 users in 102 Member States were registered with the CTBTO, allowing them access to raw and analyzed data as well as technical support from the CTBTO via secure accounts.

Preparation of On-Site Inspections

A third type of workshop is designed to prepare inspection teams for on-site-inspections, and consists of representatives from Member States as well as CTBTO staff. A whole series of workshops have already been held to prepare the teams for the upcoming major on-site inspection exercise in Kazakhstan in September 2008. Real on-site inspections will, however, only be possible after the Treaty’s entry into force.

The e-learning project – reducing costs and carbon footprints

In order to intensify these learning processes, and to render them more cost-effective and less travel-intensive, the CTBTO is embarking upon an e-learning project. This will enable it to provide online training to all Member States on a 24 hour basis in the six official United Nations languages. E-learning will also help workshop participants to better prepare themselves or to further their knowledge afterwards, thus making the workshops more effective. The project is funded by the European Union, to whom the CTBTO is very grateful.