Law Will Strengthen NOAA's Tsunami Programs

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Publication date: 
11 January 2007

Two years after a tsunami in the Indian Ocean killed more than 200,000 people in south Asia, a bill was signed into law that would authorize and enhance NOAA's programs to understand and detect tsunamis threatening the U.S., warn the American public, and mitigate the effects. "Preparedness saves lives and legislation like this can put the informational tools in place for us to be as well-equipped as possible," said incoming House Science Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) in a press release.

The bill, H.R. 1674, was originally introduced in April 2005 by former Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY). As one of the final actions of the 109th Congress, it was passed by both the House and Senate in December 2006, and signed by President Bush on December 20 (becoming Public Law 109-424). Upon House passage of the bill, Boehlert remarked, "In just a matter of hours, the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed more people than all of the Atlantic hurricanes in recorded history, combined.... The swiftness with which a tsunami can strike and the destructive force it can bring to bear on coastal communities is practically unrivaled among natural disasters. That is why it is imperative that we employ the most advanced technology available to ensure we detect a tsunami at the earliest possible moment and have the infrastructure in place that will allow the dissemination of a near-instant warning to those in harm's way. But we also need to ensure that those who live along our coasts know how to respond in the event that a tsunami warning is issued. This bill does all of that."

The legislation will strengthen the U.S.'s existing tsunami warning system in the Pacific Ocean and expand it to include the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. The bill will also do the following: authorize NOAA's tsunami forecast and warning system; authorize a NOAA tsunami research program; codify the existing federal-state partnership to improve community awareness and preparedness; and enhance contractor performance oversight. The bill also for the National Academy of Sciences to review and recommend improvements to NOAA's tsunami programs within two years; requires a GAO report in 2010 of the programs' status and performance; and requires NOAA to annually certify the readiness of detection equipment and notify Congress of any problems.

The bill authorizes the following funding levels for NOAA's tsunami programs:

FY 2008: $25 million
FY 2009: $26 million
FY 2010: $27 million
FY 2011: $28 million
FY 2012: $29 million.

As an authorization bill, this legislation only sets guidelines for funding; the actual funding levels will be determined in appropriations bills. NOAA is funded within the appropriations for the Department of Commerce.

"This bill...will give our communities the tools they need to plan for evacuation and alert their citizens in a timely way if a tsunami is coming," said Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI) in a Science Committee press release. "In short, this bill will save lives."