Tsunami Legislation Moving Ahead

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Publication date: 
3 February 2005

A two-hour hearing yesterday of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on a tsunami warning bill makes it clear that Congress and the Bush Administration are going to strengthen the nation's warning system against this natural disaster. Committee Chairman Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Committee Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI) are sponsors of S. 50, The Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005, and are likely to put it on a fast track. The Bush Administration has already announced its proposal to spend $37.5 million on a warning system over two years, which was generally favorably reviewed at a House Science Committee hearing last week (http://www.aip.org/fyi/2005/013.html.)

The congressional, executive branch, and other witnesses at the Senate hearing were supportive of S. 50, which was introduced by Inouye last week. The 20-page bill authorizes (but does not appropriate) $35 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for every year between FY 2006 and 2012, an amount considerably higher than the Administration's proposal. Section 3 of this bill neatly summarizes one of the bill's major components: "The Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shall operate regional tsunami detection and warning systems for the Pacific Ocean region and for the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico region that will provide maximum detection capability for United States coastal tsunami." The US Geological Survey (USGS) is to provide seismic information to NOAA. Another section requires deep ocean detection buoy upgrades to be completed by 2007.

Also important in S. 50 are the provisions of Section 4 for a Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program authorizing NOAA "to conduct a community-based tsunami hazard mitigation program to improve tsunami preparedness of at-risk areas." A coordinating committee with representatives from NOAA, USGS, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Science Foundation, and affected coastal states and territories will assist in conducting this effort. Activities are to include inundation mapping, community outreach and education networks and programs, coordination programs, training programs, and long-term mitigation measures. Section 5, Tsunami Research Programs, authorizes NOAA in coordination with other unspecified agencies and academic institutions to "establish a tsunami research program to develop detection, prediction, communication and mitigation science and technology that supports tsunami forecasts and warnings, including advanced sensing techniques, information and communication technology, data collection, analysis and assessment for tsunami tracking and numerical forecast modeling. . . ." Also included in S. 50 are provisions calling for the U.S. to act with international entities to "develop a fully functional global tsunami warning system comprised of regional tsunami warning networks. . . ."

S. 50 has broad support in the Senate, with 17 bipartisan cosponsors across a broad political spectrum from states as diverse as Hawaii, Alaska and Oregon where the tsunami threat is high, to Minnesota and Montana. Indicative of the visibility of this issue was the lead testimony that was given yesterday by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) who just returned from last December's tsunami ravaged area. Also testifying was OSTP Director John Marburger who visited the area. While his written testimony did not address the Administration's position on S. 50, Marburger concluded his remarks saying that the Administration's proposal is consistent with the bill. His written remarks outlined the impetus behind a significant improvement in the U.S. tsunami warning system, as he explained that "By 2025 nearly 75 percent of all Americans are expected to live in coastal counties, many of whom will be in tsunami risk areas."