Maintaining Life-Saving Data: Values Champion Keeps Buoys Afloat

By Kerry McGinley

If you check a weather app or listen to your local news for your forecast, the data on storms likely came from a buoy floating in one of the world’s oceans. Stephanie Jordan, operations specialist for the National Data Buoy Center at Stennis Space Center, is a critical part of the team that ensures that network of reporting devices stays afloat. 

“Those buoys, basically they’re saving lives,” she said. “They’re saving property. They give us our weather, they give us our climate.” 

The NBDC buoy system contains about 247 different devices. (View the full map here.) They contain technology that collects data and reports it to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NDBC. Jordan keeps track of the devices and makes sure they’re where they need to be to support the field service teams repairing and maintaining the network and flow of information. The U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA and commercial vessels get technicians out to the wide range of locations so they can  move and maintain the individual devices. 

The buoys help forecasters predict major events such as the parade of monster storms of 2017. During that hurricane season, the Caribbean network of buoys was battered to the point that several broke free. It was Jordan’s job to track them down and get them back to the NDBC at a time when local resources were focused on getting food and water to people affected by the devastating weather. 

“It was basically a war zone in the Caribbean and British Virgin Islands,” she said. “I was up against challenges like, how do I even communicate? Then I had to find a good point of contact, what kind of resources do they have that can help me get it into shipping (vessels) to get it back to the states?”

One buoy in particular took about 100 hours of effort on her part to get it returned and back online. 

“I told Stephanie to see what she could do to have the buoy secured and returned,” said Charles Stewart, Operations Department manager for National Data Buoy Center Technical Services contract. “And she did. Though it took a bit more time than it normally would have, Stephanie managed to have the NDBC’s property recovered.”

Jordan worked closely with the Port Authority of the British Virgin Islands, where the buoy ended up. After months of efforts to find a vessel with room to transport a buoy standing 16.5 feet tall and 8 feet wide — in the midst of a humanitarian effort to keep populations supplied with basic life support — Jordan got the buoy to Miami. From there, it was trucked back to Stennis.

For her efforts not just on the lost buoy worth $125,000 but also for 15 years of excellent logistics operations and service to customer, Stewart nominated Jordan as a PAE Values Champion for the category Be Your Best. 

“She saved resources, saved money and made the entire PAE team look better in the eyes of the NDBC,” Stewart said. 

Jordan appreciated the recognition as she continues to enjoy the intricacies of her daily work, which currently includes tracking down three wayward buoys in international waters. 

“My job is to save the resources, get the resources to where they need to be, save the money and make PAE shine in the customer’s eyes,” she said. “It’s a challenge and a thrill.”