20-million-pixel display Global Nuclear Future Bingaman on alternative energy RAMPART code released
Sandia Visualization Corridor formally opens with 20-million pixel display
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By Neal Singer
A 10-foot-high, 13-foot-wide screen that makes high-definition television look in comparison as grainy as an old TV in a cheap motel will be formally unveiled by Sandia on July 12.
The facility's digitized images of highly complicated scientific data sets are created of 20 million pixels.
"If the devil is in these details, we'll find him," joked Brian Wylie (9227) of the opportunity for finding formerly hidden mischief through the unusual clarity of the huge data set's visual
The image is as detailed as if an aircraft at 21,000 feet were imaging every ear of corn in a 100-acre field, says manager and program leader Philip Heermann (9227). "The image approaches the visual acuity of the eye: the eyeball is the limiting factor, not the computer. From ten feet away, the image is as good as your eyes are able to see."
Also, even the world's largest sets are rendered in seconds rather than minutes or hours.
"We are 100 times faster in producing an image than the fastest SGI graphics pipe," says Philip, "and to my knowledge are now the fastest in the world in rendering complex scientific data sets." (SGI is generally acknowledged as an industry leader in graphics performance.) The "Scalable Rendering Team" that created the cluster includes, among others, Milt Clauser, Ken Moreland, Dino Pavlakos, and Brian Wylie (all 9227).
The screen is part of Sandia's Visualization Corridor -- so-called because "it suggests a wide path through which large quantities of data can flow," says project manager Carl Leishman (14111). Images are created through massively parallel imaging, which could be thought of as the kid brother of massively parallel computing. The image is not created from a single graphics card but instead through the orchestrated outputs of 64 computers splitting data into 16 screens arranged as a 4 x 4 set.
Next stop: 64 million pixels
By January, Philip expects the Sandia team to reach the project's second phase goal of 64 million pixels -- a major milestone of the ASCI VIEWS program, which funds this work. "Sandia is the Lab charged with responsibility for this milestone, and we will meet it," he says. The images are expected to allow scientists a better view of where nuclear and other complex reactions are behaving unexpectedly and where they are proceeding normally. Says Philip, "It does not make sense to view a 20- or 100-million cell simulation result on a standard one-million-pixel display."
The ASCI/VIEWS Visualization Corridor was conceived and built by Sandia's VIEWS Visualization and VIEWS Operational Deployment team to support development and deployment of scalable rendering and display technologies. The 2,500-square-foot facility in Bldg. 880 is deliberately located close to many of its potential users, including the weapon analysts in that building. The technology developed in the Visualization Corridor is expected to reach another peak within the walls of Sandia's MESA Complex in 2006, where weapon engineers will work in close proximity with weapon analysts, engineering scientists, and microtechnology developers.
The current facility features three wall-sized rear-projection display screens, custom-constructed by Stewart Filmscreen Corp., of Torrance, Calif. The display screens -- each 10' x 13' -- may be the largest individual pieces of glass in New Mexico. The screens were installed through an open wall during remodeling of the building, and if they are ever removed or replaced, an access port in the roof will allow the screens to be lifted in or out with a crane.
Arrays of high-performance digital projectors (1280 x 1024 pixel resolution) provide the screen images. The initial installation consists of one center-screen stack of 16 digital high-resolution projectors, with individual projectors for the left and right screens. The system is configured with no image-edge overlaps. Because of the brightness of the projectors, the extremely high-resolution images are easily discernible in ambient light conditions, and users can work in the environment with their books, papers, computers, and other devices and interact normally with one another.
Down on the "render farm"
Driving the images will be one of the first computer clusters designed for graphics rendering and image display. Building on Sandia's expertise in scalable high-performance computing, the VIEWS team has fielded a cluster of 64 Compaq SP750 workstation computers. Although the computers are similar to home computers, they are interconnected with a very high bandwidth, gigabit wire speed, communications fabric. Software created by Sandia's VIEWS scalable rendering team leverages the data interconnect to perform scalable parallel rendering of computer simulation data into images. Clusters of computers, or "render farms," used for many years in the movie industry, may take a half-hour or more to render a frame -- the equivalent of the Sandia screen -- but they cannot handle the data set sizes or the interactive rates of the Sandia cluster. Plans exist to move the 64-node computer cluster into the classified environment and to assemble a new unclassified computer cluster.
Other, smaller view-clusters exist at Princeton, Stanford, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. These programs, as well as another to be operable this winter at the University of Texas at Austin, are all funded by ASCI.
The Corridor provides many other classified and unclassified data sources for display: workstations, video teleconferencing, media creation support for animation files, and VHS and DVD. Automated video and audio matrix-switching support both unclassified and classified sources, and a variety of display modes are available. The user facility is available on a 24-hour basis. -- Neal Singer
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Global Nuclear Future would see systemic management of 'all things nuclear'
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By Bill Murphy
"A new nuclear culture will arise. The question is, 'How much do we [the US] want to influence it?' "
That's the issue and the question as framed by Sandia nuclear energy expert Tom Sanders (6411).
Sandia Senior VP for Nonproliferation Roger Hagengruber (5000), Senior VP for Nuclear Weapons Tom Hunter (9000), and VP for Energy programs Bob Eagan (6000) have an answer. The US, they argue, should seek a seat at the nuclear energy table, a seat it vacated in a de facto sense more than 20 years ago.
And the three Sandia leaders have a very good idea of the form this new nuclear culture should assume. They call their vision the Global Nuclear Future. It's a conceptual framework they've developed over the past three years or so to look at nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, nuclear proliferation, deterrence, and nuclear repository management -- "all things nuclear," as Bob puts it -- as a systemic whole.
The Global Nuclear Future, the VPs say, is not a defined, packaged solution; it's a way of thinking about the shape of things to come. And while the shape may not be sharply defined, its broad outlines can be traced. It's an extension and elaboration of the concept of Global Nuclear Materials Management, championed by Tom Hunter. That was a concept of responsibly managing global weapons-grade nuclear materials in a way that is environmentally sound and profoundly proliferation-resistant.
The Global Nuclear Future vision takes the materials management concept a step further by incorporating a nuclear energy component into the equation. The vision recognizes that nuclear deterrence will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future, but also recognizes that America's Cold War-scale stockpile is far larger than 21st century geopolitics demands. It recognizes that nonproliferation will remain a key national security goal. It sees global climate change as a legitimate area for concern. It sees that nuclear energy can be a component of America's energy supply mix. It holds that nuclear wastes can be minimized and managed through the proper application of technology. And -- most critically -- it sees all of these issues as synergistically related.
The key to the Global Nuclear Future, says Tom Sanders, is what he calls the holistic nuclear fuel cycle, which is transparent, totally open for all to see. Using the most sophisticated technologies -- many developed at Sandia -- nuclear fuels would be tracked and managed throughout their life cycles. The transparency would alleviate proliferation concerns (more on that later), while the holistic nature of the cycle would maximize the benefit from every atom of fissionable material.
As Tom Hunter puts it: "The nation has taken pieces of what should be an integral puzzle and isolated them in a way that we can't get a coherent overall policy." DOE, he says, should "step up to its rightful role and champion this as a major mission element, this integration of all things nuclear."
A look at the nuclear past
To understand the drivers behind Roger, Tom, and Bob's vision for the future, it's useful to understand the nuclear past.
The atom's awesome power, unleashed over Japan, ended a long and bloody war. In the heady postwar days, it was asserted that that same incredible energy would be harnessed and put to work for the greater good of humankind. Thus President Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace. Thus, power "too cheap to meter." A new day, charged with can-do American optimism, would bring light to the far corners of the world.
A bright and shining promise indeed. And a seductive and alluring one, too. In the US alone, more than 100 nuclear power plants were brought on line.
But the electricity wasn't too cheap to meter. It cost dearly to bring a power plant on stream. Huge amounts of capital (which had itself become very costly by the 1970s) could be tied up for years as utilities negotiated the regulatory/ environmental labyrinth required to get a plant up and running. Environmental concerns mounted: What do you do with the wastes? Safety concerns mounted: Would a "China Syndrome" core meltdown let slip an Armageddon of destruction? While the damage from Three Mile Island might have been exaggerated in the public mind, there was no doubt whatsoever that Chernobyl was a disaster of huge proportions. Public support went south and stayed there.
Then there was the public policy issue.
A technology called fuel reprocessing allowed engineers to take advantage of an interesting characteristic of controlled nuclear fission. After being "burned" in a reactor, the used uranium fuel rods could be reprocessed -- that is, recycled -- and more fissionable material could be recovered. In the right kind of reactor, that fuel could be used to generate more electricity. Along with reprocessing technology, there was also another technology, the breeder reactor. It was the nearest thing you can imagine to a perpetual motion machine. The breeder reactor could actually produce -- via irradiation -- more fuel than it consumed.
These were exciting technologies, to be sure. But in the 1970s, reprocessing wasn't cost-effective. Far from it. It was expensive. Even so, the prospect of virtually unlimited fuel supply still tantalized, and it might have made sense for US industry to invest in R&D to develop and refine reprocessing techniques and breeder reactor designs.
Except for one big concern: All this reprocessing and fuel breeding would result in tons of new weapons-grade nuclear material. Very dangerous stuff could be diverted down some very unsavory avenues. An adversary using the technology could churn out bomb-grade fissionables by the cart-load. Sell it to the highest bidder. Imagine Idi Amin with a couple of nukes.
The dream, in short, had a nightmarish dark side. Jekyll and Hyde. So, in the interest of national security and nonproliferation, President Carter signed a directive: There would be no reprocessing, no breeders, in the US.
Anything but nuclear
The bottom line to all these political, economic, regulatory, environmental, safety, and public relations concerns? Utility company bean counters, the no-nonsense cost/benefit guys and gals, said to their bosses: "We can make a lot more money with natural gas (or coal, or whatever. Anything but nuclear)."
Nuclear investment dried up, and with it so did US influence over all (non-weapons) things nuclear.
The rest of the world didn't follow the US lead. Indeed, nuclear plant construction is surging around the globe -- 31 commercial reactors are under construction right now and scores more are anticipated in the years ahead -- and several countries are reprocessing fuels.
Roger poses the question: Has the nation's reprocessing policy produced the desired benefit, or would an alternative policy be more beneficial in controlling proliferation?
"The argument we're making," he says, "is that an alternative policy about nuclear energy and reprocessing would be more beneficial. The additional element of the energy problem that the US is facing only adds greater urgency."
He adds: "Our whole thesis here at Sandia is that the answer to a world in which it's possible to have the largest degree of nuclear peace and, to some extent, prosperity is a world in which you have to engage all elements, including a proactive policy for nuclear energy." A big part of that policy, Roger says, is that "we need to fully engage Russia in this."
Tom agrees: "I don't think you can think about a Global Nuclear Future without recognizing the Russian situation; they are still advocates for a broad spectrum of nuclear activities, including nuclear power. They certainly have the capability [to promote things nuclear], the experience to do that, and they are, of course, a major weapons state. It's clear that we need to have some cooperation with them in a way that they are at least significant contributors to how this nuclear future shapes up."
As an aside, Bob says, "It's kind of interesting that in Russia plutonium is viewed as an extremely valuable national asset. In this country it's viewed as intolerably bad stuff that should be thrown away. We actually think the Russians have it right here."
The global dimension
As interested as he is in Russian-specific interactions, Roger sees the global dimension of the Global Nuclear Future.
"We have to recognize," he says, "that many emerging economies -- China and India, for instance -- are going to have very substantial needs for energy. They face the problem that the world faces, which is that coal is relatively abundant but it produces a lot of carbon and a lot of pollution. Nuclear energy will be attractive for them. We can't simply walk away from this. We're going to have to face this issue whether it's a brownout in California, a global issue of pollution, or proliferation. Sitting back is not going to be good enough."
Bob notes that the energy crisis that reared its head in California early this year "has teed up the issue of nuclear energy again in a major away. It's caused a lot of people to look at why the US chose not to continue building nuclear power plants. A lot of folks are concluding that the reasons for doing that were mostly poorly founded."
Thus, Bob says, the time is right for America to revisit nuclear energy, but with a new expanded sense of what that means.
"Sandia is about national security writ large: security related to our main mission of weapons, security related to proliferation, security related to the energy supply, and security related to environmental policy. . . . Within the DOE and within the government in general these things are handled as separate entities, but the reality is that they're all interrelated and we've put together a story around how all those things are related. And our role is, then, to try to stimulate dialogue at the right levels of government to start to manage all things nuclear in an integrated fashion."
Roger, Tom, and Bob stress that only the government can really provide the policy and R&D underpinnings of the Global Nuclear Future.
Says Roger: "Our philosophical view is that . . . the genetic code of nuclear energy has a substantial part of its sequence coming from government investment. . . . Our belief is that the government needs to lead the way in the technology area toward a new generation of nuclear energy, not to the exclusive benefit of the US but in a global way."
Timing is right
And the timing is right, says Bob, for the government to step to the plate.
"I think that in this administration, the [Global Nuclear Future] concept is extremely viable. We certainly have an opportunity to get this played within the Department of Energy, because of [Labs President] Paul Robinson's leadership position in all things nuclear and his ability to have a dialogue with the Secretary. . . . I think that right now and for the next few years we have an absolutely fantastic opportunity to move all this forward. We have a president who's not afraid to utter the word nuclear and a vice president who is outspoken on the issue and has expressed support for very pragmatic approaches to solving these sets of problems. Given those factors, I think, yes, there's a very high chance we'll get a favorable hearing on the [Global Nuclear Future] concept. . . . Even the strong environmental community has got to look at this issue of balance of greenhouse gas emissions with the issue of nuclear reactors."
The timing may be right, but there are challenges: "The problem is that, with things of this nature, broad in scope like this [Global Nuclear Future] concept, it's hard to capture the attention of policy makers," says Tom. "I think we [Sandia] should be seen as those who want to engage in the dialogue, support the policy makers, try to provide information that is factual, objective, ethical, and presented with integrity." -- Bill Murphy
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Sen. Bingaman hears first-hand how Sandia researchers are tapping into renewable energy's potential
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By Bill Murphy
Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., in his first visit to Sandia since becoming chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, heard briefings last week from Sandians about the Labs' work in alternative energy technologies. Presentations focused on concentrating solar power, direct solar water heating, photovoltaics, wind energy, and geothermal energy.
Bingaman was on a fact-finding mission to the Labs as his committee gears up for additional debate this summer about provisions of his Comprehensive and Balanced Energy Policy Act of 2001.
The act calls for renewable energy R&D spending of $419 million in FY02, increasing to $652 million by FY06. The bill also includes provisions with incentives for renewable energy investment, including a requirement that the federal government purchase a certain percentage of its electricity from renewable energy sources.
Bingaman told news reporters after the July 6 briefings that he considers the administration's budget plan proposal to substantially cut renewable R&D funding "totally wrong-headed." (In a news release distributed during the briefing, Bingaman cited Bush budget numbers calling for a 54 percent reduction in federal solar energy spending and a 48 percent cut in wind energy spending.)
"The president has retracted a lot of that," he said. "It was clear [to the President] that Congress wants to keep funding at least at the level it's at now." The Bush administration has subsequently indicated a willingness to support legislation that would keep renewable R&D investment at its current levels, he said.
In his news release, Bingaman said, "Sandia scientists have done groundbreaking research on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power. There is no question in my mind that this technology will play a key role in helping meet our national energy needs."
Concentrating solar energy
In context-setting remarks for Bingaman, Margie Tatro, Director of Sandia's Energy and Transportation Security Center 6200, noted that renewable energy sources represent a growing segment of the nation's energy portfolio. The cost of renewables -- a traditional stumbling block to wider implementation -- has been coming down over the years and is now competitive with non-renewables in some applications. Also, she said, renewable resources are abundant in the US, particularly in the Southwest, where sun and wind are defining environmental characteristics.
Craig Tyner, Manager of Solar Thermal Technology Dept. 6216, briefed Bingaman on concentrating solar energy. Among the key benefits: the adaptability of thermal solar power. Because the technology involves heating a fluid that then is used to produce steam to turn a turbine, it can be hybridized -- other energy sources can be used with the systems during darkness or excessive cloud cover. The potential of the technology has been shown on a large scale with Solar Two, a demonstration solar thermal power tower located in the Mojave Desert in California. Solar Two can generate about 10 megawatts of electricity.
Hot water from the sun
Paul Klimas, Manager of Photovoltaic System Components Dept. 6219, described for Bingaman a CRADA project between Sandia and the Salt River Project (SRP), a large public-private utility company in Arizona, to develop a commercially viable solar hot water heater. Paul said SRP came to Sandia for help because "we know solar and we know engineering. . . they wanted our systems expertise." SRP, he said, had an idea of what it wanted in a solar water heater: It would last for 30 years; it would be designed to be built as part of a home's roof during construction so that it could be factored into the first mortgage; it would cost no more than $1,500 installed. Sandia came through, developing a system that meets SRP's requirements. That system is in testing in Maricopa County and could be deployed commercially in the next two years. SRP estimates the market for the heaters to be in excess of 20,000 units a year in the Phoenix area alone, saving substantial amounts of energy.
Beth Richards of Photovoltaic Systems R&D Dept. 6218, described the "very elegant" technology of photovoltaics. Unlike concentrating solar energy technologies, which use the sun's heat, PV technologies convert photons directly into electricity. The technology first found wide application in stand-alone systems -- lights for highway signs in remote locations, electricity systems for remote homesites such as those you might find on the Navajo Nation. Now, however, PV systems are more and more being tied into the energy grid and are, in fact, well-suited to a 21st century distributed energy model. Though much of the breakthrough R&D has been conducted in the US by DOE labs, PV systems are being adopted in other nations.
"We don't want this to go the way of the VCR," Beth said (a reference to the fact that although videotape recorder technologies originated in the US, the huge world market for video appliances was dominated by foreign firms).
Margie said PV technologies -- indeed, all renewable technologies -- have a natural R&D fit with improved storage technologies, some method to store energy when the wind doesn't blow or the sun doesn't shine.
John Finger of Geothermal Research Dept. 6211 noted that while geothermal energy has the advantage of being utterly reliable, it has the disadvantage of being difficult to tap into. Unlike drilling for fossil fuels, geothermal drilling requires boring though hard, tough rock, in a hot environment that might even involve corrosive gases.
"For geothermal work, we need tougher tools," he said. And Sandia has done a lot of work in that area. He showed Bingaman an old-fashioned well-drilling bit based on geared roller cones that grind up the rock. The drill bit was developed in 1911 by Howard Hughes Sr. and is a very mature technology, without room for revolutionary improvement. Sandia developed an alternative drill bit, the polycrystalline diamond compact (PDC) bit, which cuts through rock the way a machine tool cuts through metal. That technology has been embraced by the drilling industry. John also showed the senator a new downhole probe that monitors drilling progress and withstands heat much more efficiently than conventional probes. Like the advanced PDC bit, the downhole probe helps to substantially boost drilling speeds.
Harnessing the wind
Installation of wind generating capacity worldwide over the last two years has totaled 20,000 megawatts, said Wind Energy Technology Dept. 6214 Manager Henry Dodd. That's more new installed electrical generating capacity than nuclear power in the same period. And interest in the technology is increasing as costs become more competitive. Henry described for Bingaman what he called "the big 12," the dozen states -- including New Mexico -- where winds blow strong enough and reliably enough to be a very viable energy source. He described Sandia's work with industry to improve wind vane performance to derive the maximum energy from even modest but steady winds. He noted that for New Mexico, electricity generated by the wind could become a valuable export item.
Following the briefings, Bingaman said he thinks he can rally bipartisan support for "a balanced piece of legislation" that includes solid federal investment in renewable energy R&D.
"I think there are things we can do [to encourage renewable development] through legislation," he said. -- Bill Murphy
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Sandia to release first risk-based approach to building management software for use by GSA
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By Chris Burroughs
RAMPART, Sandia-developed software believed to be the first risk-based approach to building management, may soon become a tool to help the General Services Administration (GSA) assess the risks of natural disasters, crime, and terrorism to the nearly 8,000 federal buildings it manages nationwide.
GSA turned to Sandia in mid-1998 following the Oklahoma City bombing and several devastating natural disasters to create a screening-level software program that could analyze the risk of potential threats to buildings. After nearly three years of development, RAMPART, for Risk Assessment Method -- Property Analysis and Ranking Tool, is ready to be rolled out.
"Traditionally buildings have been built to code, which pays attention to disasters that have already happened," says Regina Hunter (6804), RAMPART technical lead. "RAMPART looks to the future probability of events occurring and what there is to lose if those events take place."
The software development is part of Sandia's Architectural SuretyŽ program, which uses technology to make homes, shopping malls, offices, public buildings, and infrastructures safer in a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
While the initial RAMPART software was developed specifically to analyze risks for GSA-managed buildings, it could easily be adopted for other critical facilities such as embassies, school systems, and large municipalities.
"We think RAMPART could have wide application for other government agencies and in the private sector," says Rudy Matalucci (5862), the RAMPART project manager.
Starting this month the RAMPART team will be taking the software on the road, giving formal training sessions on it at the ten GSA regional offices. The first was July 10 in Denver, to be followed later in the month with a session in Fort Worth. Training at the remaining regional offices is planned through the end of September.
In developing RAMPART, the Sandia team built equations for threatening events -- natural hazards including hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, winter storms, and floods as well as crime and terrorism -- and information on the building's location, construction type, numbers of people housed, types of activities underway, and numerous other factors. The equations could then determine the risk for an event at a particular building.
For example, Regina says, take an empty warehouse slated for demolition in an area highly prone to hurricanes. While the potential for a hurricane is large, the consequences are unimportant, and therefore risk turns out to be very low."
However, if it were a large federal building that housed thousands of people, including several hundred from "lightning rod" agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and was in the same hurricane-prone location, the risk would be much higher, she says.
RAMPART consists of a user interface, a threatening-events database, and an expert system of rules that embody the GSA's knowledge about buildings and tenants and Sandia's knowledge of risk analysis. Using the software, it will take a GSA staff member less than two hours to complete a building risk analysis.
Easy to use
One of the important aspects of RAMPART is that it is easy to use for the GSA staffers.
"All users have to do is point and click their way through the assessment," Regina says. "They will be asked basic questions about the building -- location, construction, security monitoring, etc. -- and the computer program will do the rest."
"The interface does not request any information that a GSA property manager can't reasonably be expected to have access to," Regina says. "For example, the user is not asked to evaluate risk or to provide data on the probability of natural hazards in the area." Instead, RAMPART contains this information in its database.
After completing a building assessment, users learn whether the building is considered to be a very high, high, medium, low, or negligible risk. They receive additional information about the risk factors in the form of a bar chart that shows the risk for the consequences analyzed for each hazard. The graphical presentation allows the user to see and distinguish at a glance both the infrequent high risks and the frequent low risks that the building presents.
From the start and at each stage of the RAMPART project, Sandia developers made sure that GSA regional offices were involved in the software creation. Regina met with five of the ten regional offices at least once and with the field office in Albuquerque three or four times to query them on their needs and obtain input on the software as it was developed.
"I loved this project so much that I've visited regional offices on my vacation," Regina says. "I thought it was important to find out what the regional offices thought about the software. Their responses led me to change the software in my attempt to make it a real tool for GSA."
"Standard software development practices dictate that analysis and design of an application be done in the very early stages of a project," says Sharon Shannon (6804), one of the team's programmers. "For RAMPART, however, no one knew in the beginning how to do risk assessment for buildings, and interaction between Sandia's team of risk analysts and GSA property managers is an ongoing effort."
Conferring with people in the field offices, for example, helped Regina get a better handle on what consequences to include. Ultimately death, injury, loss of mission capability, loss of property, loss of content, loss of use of property, and first responder risk were listed.
One example of how she changed the software to meet the GSA needs was the first- responder aspect. First responder means the first unit, like a fire department, responding to an incident. The software initially asked a question about how long it would take for a first responder to arrive at the building, with options listed between five and 20 minutes. After noticing that some folks at the Auburn, Wash., regional office were perplexed over the question, she asked them what the problem was.
"I learned that in some of the remote buildings in Alaska it might take days to get a first responder, which basically means no response," she says. "So we changed the software to include an answer of 'none.'"
Regina says RAMPART will continue to change as the GSA regional offices begin using the software after the road show. She anticipates the regional offices will help work out the bugs to improve the software. -- Chris Burroughs
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Last modified: July 12, 2001
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