? _ RL34506 - Tsunami Detection and Warnings for the United States
25-Sep-2008; Wayne A. Morrissey; 17 p.

Abstract: Congress raised concerns about the possible vulnerability of U.S. coastal areas to tsunamis, and the adequacy of early warning for coastal areas, after a strong underwater earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, on December 26, 2004. The earthquake generated a tsunami that devastated many coastal communities around the northern Indian Ocean, and may have cost around 170,000 known deaths and 100,000 still missing and generated $186 million in damages. Officials determined then that no tsunami early warning systems operated in the Indian Ocean.

In December 2005, President Bush released an action plan for expanding the U.S. tsunami detection and early warning network, which was expected to cost millions of dollars and would include building the infrastructure and maintaining its operations. Some Members of Congress argued that the benefits would far outweigh the costs; other Members questioned the probability of tsunamis outside the Pacific Basin. Long before the tsunami disaster, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce envisioned “piggy backing” tsunami detection and warning instrumentation on existing marine buoys, tide gauges, and other ocean observation and monitoring systems. However, NOAA was also experimenting with a new deep water tsunami detection technology.

Congress approved emergency funding in FY2005 for the President’s action plan for procuring and deploying a comprehensive U.S. tsunami early detection and warning system. This meant expanding an existing six deep ocean tsunami detection buoys into a network of 39, which would be sited in the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean Basins, including the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and the Far Pacific Ocean to monitor U.S. trust territories at risk.

Proponents of the NOAA program also called for funding authorization to address long-term needs of the U.S. network, such as maintenance, and to support social programs aimed at disaster preparedness and adaptation to risk. Emergency experts stressed the need for education of indigenous people and visitors about the potential dangers of tsunamis in an area; adaptation to potential risks, such as constructing public shelters; periodic evacuation drills; and informed landuse planning. Many also asserted that local officials need to be empowered to rapidly alert populations of an evacuation and to take appropriate safety precautions, even if that entailed using low-tech, high impact solutions such as sirens.

With respect to tsunami disaster warnings for the United States, discussions ensued between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and NOAA about developing a multi-hazard warning and response system and, perhaps, eventually contributing to a global tsunami early warning system. Experts acknowledge that formidable challenges lay ahead in adopting standardized communications protocols and ensuring the interoperability, scope, and purpose of the diverse emergency warning alert systems used by the United States and other countries.

This report will be updated as events warrant. [read report]

Topics: Water, Marine

Start Over