The following FAQs and answers explain the history of the Mount St. Helens VolcanoCams.
The Mount St. Helens VolcanoCam first started sometime in 1996. It was one of the very first web cameras installed on the World Wide Web pointed at an active volcano.
There really isn't an answer to the question, or more accurately, we haven't been able to locate all of the original documentation used to acquire the original VolcanoCam. We do know the Gifford Pinchot National Forest was one of the first national forests to have its own web site. It stands to reason that Mount St. Helens was an obvious choice for a web camera for the new web site.
The original Mount St. Helens VolcanoCam and its web server operated continuously with no problems (except for an occasional power failure at the Johnston Ridge Observatory) until October, 2002. In October, 2002, the web server CPU fan failed causing the server CPU to overheat and shut down. We quickly replaced the server with a surplus computer and the VolcanoCam continued to operate. However, in May, 2003, it became apparent the VolcanoCam web camera was showing its age. The web camera was enclosed in a weather-resistant external case, complete with heater and defogger. However, the extreme weather conditions during the previous six years (temperature changes greater than 100*F, snow, rain, fog), along with severe environmental issues (high winds blowing final volcanic ash that can cut glass and destroy electronic components) finally took its toll. We retired the VolcanoCam in June, 2003.
We thought that replacing the Mount St. Helens VolcanoCam would take month or two at the most. However, the tough weather conditions and environmental issues at Mount St. Helens eliminated practically every web camera we looked at in our research. With a limited budget (thanks to a grant from the Northwest Interpretive Association), we could not afford some of the latest and best technology that the VolcanoCam decerves. Finally, no web camera manufacturer came forward with a potential donation that did not have strings attached so our search took longer than expected. Once we finally found a web camera that met our requirements, it became a waiting game. With various staff away on fire fighting duty in the summers of 2003 and 2004, along with the long winter of 2003/2004, we had to wait until all schedules could come together. We also ran into a security issue with the hardware/software we were using. We solved that problem when we found additional government surplus computers that passed the security tests.
We installed the current Mount St. Helens VolcanoCam on September 23, 2004, the very same day Mount St. Helens began rumbling. While we should all take this as a mere coincidence, some of us do believe Mount St. Helens began her happy dance as a celebration that she is now back on the Internet 24/7 for all the world to see. Well, that's our story and we're sticking to it.