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Tsunami Response (7-10-06)

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Following the massive earthquake and tsunami of December 26, 2004, which claimed more than 225,000 lives from Indonesia to Somalia, the Bush administration has committed to expanding the nation's tsunami detection and warning capabilities. A new proposal called for $37 million to enhance USGS and NOAA operations and incorporate them into a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) involving the cooperation of 50 countries.

Recent Action

GAO Releases Report on U.S. Tsunami Preparedness
In the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami disaster, many questions were raised about U.S. tsunami preparedness in highly populated coastal regions. In response to these concerns, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published a report entitled "U.S. Tsunami Preparedness: Federal and State Partners Collaborate to Reduce Potential Impacts, But Challenges Remain." The report, released on June 5, 2006, concludes that while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has the technology to detect the formation of a tsunami and issue warnings fairly quickly, the states lack comprehensive information regarding potential human, structural, and economic impacts that could result from a tidal wave.

The report determined that for many parts of coastal Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington - as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands - reliable assessments of potential tsunami impacts have not yet been completed. This is due in part to limited progress on the creation of inundation maps that show the extent of coastal flooding for these regions, and a lack of standardized computer software for estimating the likely human, structural, and economic damages from tsunamis. The GAO recommends that NOAA work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the United States Geological Service (USGS) to create standardized tsunami loss estimation software.

The GAO report underscored the need to raise public awareness, through school and community programs, of how to respond to tsunami warnings. It also advised local governments to improve evacuation routes and to build emergency communications infrastructure that would be protected from potential tsunami damage. The report additionally suggested that NOAA create a long-range strategic plan and define specific performance measures so that the success of the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program can be assessed.

To read the full GAO report, click here.
For more information on NOAA's National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, click here. (7/10/06)

Previous Action

On July 1, 2005, the Senate passed S. 50, the Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005 by unanimous consent. A press release related to the passage of the bill was posted by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, who had initially approved the bill on April 19, 2005 (report number 109-059). Introduced by Committee co-chairmen Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) and co-sponsored by 24 other Senators, the bill authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to expand and modernize the nation's current tsunami detection and warning system by the end of 2007. As authorized under the bill, the upgraded system would include additional tsunami detection buoys and other monitoring and warning technology, a federal-state partnered mitigation program to prepare at-risk communities, and a tsunami research program. The bill also directs NOAA to provide technical or other assistance to international partners as they work to establish regional and global warning systems, particularly planned expansions in the Indian Ocean.

After the bill's passage, it was referred to the House under the purview of the Science Committee, while several other small provisions were passed to the House committees on Resouces and Transportation and Infrastructure for approval. A legislative aide from the Science Committee said he expects the full House to consider their own U.S. Tsunami Warning and Education Act, H.R. 1674, sometime in September, when Congress returns from their August recess. The House Science Committee had approved this bill during a mark-up on May 4th. Legislators will then form a conference committee among House and Senate members to work out remaining discrepancies between H.R. 1674 and S. 50. (7/20/05)

On May 11, 2005, the President signed into law an emergency spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2005 that includes over $20 million in funds for federal science agencies to enhance the nation's tsunami warning capabilities. The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005 (H.R. 1268) gives The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a total of $17.24 million for construction including about $7 million for "operations, research and facilities" and roughly $10 million under "procurement, acquisition and construction." The bill also allocates $8.1 million to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to begin expanding the Global Seismic Network and to provide 24/7 earthquake response support through the agency's National Earthquake Information Center. (5/20/05)

On April 20, 2005, the House Science Subcommittee on Environment, Technology, and Standards approved by voice vote the U.S. Tsunami Warning and Education Act of 2005 (H.R. 1674). Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) announced plans for a full committee mark-up in early May, 2005. Boehlert, along with Subcommittee Chairman Vernon Ehlers (R-MI), Rep. David Wu (D-OR) and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA), introduced the bill in response to a Bush Administration proposal to enhance tsunami forecasting and preparedness in the U.S.

As Ehlers explained in an opening statement, the bill would authorize $30 million annually for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), to "expand tsunami forecast and warning capability for all U.S. coastlines, increase emphasis on community-based tsunami education and outreach activities, maintain a tsunami research program, and provide technical advice and training to the international community." Of the $30 million annual authorization, $21 million would be devoted to detection and warning systems, $6 million would go towards education and outreach. and $3 million would fund new research. Representative Wu added his support: “this bill authorizes the type of end-to-end system we must have if we are to avoid catastrophic loss of life in the event of a tsunami." (4/22/05)

On January 14, 2005, the Bush Administration announced a plan to improve the U.S. tsunami detection and warning system. Under the plan, The U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would recieve a total of $37.5 million over fiscal years 2005 and 2006. Of this total, NOAA's allotted $24 million will go towards the deployment of 32 Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (DART) buoys (25 in the Pacific and 7 in the Atlantic and Caribbean), 38 new sea level gauges, continuous staffing of the two Tsunami Warning Centers, and the "TsunamiReady" public outreach and certification programs. The remaining $13.5 million would go to the USGS to expand and improve imformation delivery from the Global Seismic Network, which is a partnership project with the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Administration's proposal also includes plans to improve inter-agency notification and implement 24/7 operations at the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colorado. (2/2/2005)


Following the massive earthquake and tsunami of December 26, 2004, which claimed over 225,000 lives from Indonesia to Somalia, the Bush administration announced it would expand the nation's tsunami detection and warning capabilities. The initial proposal called for $37 million to enhance USGS and NOAA operations over the next two years, and incorporate them into a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) involving the cooperation of 50 countries.

NOAA and its predecessor agencies have provided tsunami warning services for the U.S. since 1949. Following a tsunami off the coast of California in 1992, Congress asked NOAA to launch the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP), which provides warning and evacuation plans for the five most vulnerable U.S. states (Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and California), and enrolls northwest coastal communities in a "TsunamiReady" certification program. In coordination with an international warning system involving 26 countries bordering the Pacific Ocean, NOAA operates six buoys in the Pacific Ocean, three of of which are currently off-line. The new plan would add 25 deep-ocean assessment and reporting of tsunami (DART) buoys to the Pacific ocean, and an additional 12 buoys to accompany new early warning systems in the Atlantic and Caribbean. The USGS would also enhance seismic monitoring and delivery capabilities within an their Global Seismic Network.

The new tsunami mitigation plan will be incorporated into an over-arching international effort, called the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), which was launched in April, 2004 in Tokyo at the U.S.-led Earth Observation Summit. On February 16, 2005, in Brussels, the U.S., in coordination with 56 other nations and 33 international organizations, finalized a 10-year implementation plan to ultimately integrate the world's earth observing capabilities into a single, global data-sharing network and all-hazards warning system. After the deadly tsunami of December 26, 2004, tsunami mitigation programs became a priority at the summit. In accordance with the global effort, NOAA's new buoy network will integrate its technology with a new $30 million tsunami monitoring effort organized for the Indian Ocean by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Australia is also working on a warning system involving 30 seismometers, 10 tidal gauges, and six tsunami buoys worth $20 million, according to the National Journal. Thailand's system is said to be ready in six months.

The last time a tsunami hit the U.S. was in March, 1964 in Alaska, California and Hawaii, killing 122 people. A tsunami thought to be of similar scale to the recent event struck the Pacific Northwest and Japan in 1700 following an earthquake on the Cascadia Fault. Although tsunami are rare events, new funding for global observation initiatives accompanied by new ocean policy may have a positive effect on data collection, education and decision-making on other natural hazards, climate change, weather patterns, pollution, coral reef destruction, water quality and fisheries management.

Sources: NOAA, GAO, National Journal, Science, and hearing testimony.

Contributed by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program, Katie Ackerly, Government Affairs Staff, Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs, and Jessica Rowland, 2006 AGI/AIPG Summer Intern.

Background section includes material from AGI's Update on the Clearn Air Act for the 108th Congress.

Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated on July 10, 2006.

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