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Summary of Hearings on Tsunami Response and Warning System

  • February 2, 2005: Senate Commerce Science and Transportation Full Committee Hearing on the Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005 and the U.S. Tsunami Warning System
  • January 26, 2005: House Science Committee Hearing on the Tsunami Warning System

Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee
Full Committee Hearing on the Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005 (S. 50) and the U.S. Tsunami Warming System
February 2, 2005

The Honorable Bill Frist, Senate Majority Leader, United States Senate
The Honorable Mary Landrieu, Senator, United States Senate
Brigadier General John Kelly, U.S. Air Force (ret.), Deputy Undersecretary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The Honorable John Marburger, III, Director, Office of Science and Technology Policy
Dr. Charles Groat, Director, U.S. Geological Survey
The Honorable Arden L. Bement, Jr., Director, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce
Dr. Roger Hansen, Director, Tsunami Warning and Environmental System for Alaska Ms. Eileen Shea, Project Coordinator, East West Center
Dr. Daniel Cox, Director, Hinsdale Wave Research Lab

On February 2nd, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee heard testimony regarding S. 50, the Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005, which is sponsored by Committee Chairman Ten Stevens (R-AK) and Committee Co-Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI). This bill calls for more funds than requested in the Administration's initial proposal of $37.5 million over the next two years, authorizing $35 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for every year between FY 2006 and 2012.

The bill authorizes NOAA to coordinate regional detection and warning systems for the basins bordering the US, and to integrate these with global efforts with the help of seismic information provided by the USGS. NOAA would also to work with the USGS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and NSF to expand upon NOAA's Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, which would conduct "community-based" programs, including inundation mapping, training, long-term mitigation and public outreach programs, in the country's most at-risk states.

For much of the hearing, discussion focused on technical issues such as new equipment costs and strategies to improve infrastructure and building standards for coastal communities. Much attention was also given to the effectiveness of international and inter-agency communication systems. In contrast to the hearing with the House Science Committee on February 26th, there was less mention of incorporating other natural hazards into comprehensive public education programs and mitigation efforts.

In the first panel discussion, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) urged the Committee to consider a humanitarian aid component to S. 50. Senator Frist proposed to launch a "Global Health Corps," which would enlist doctors and humanitarian aid workers to provide developing nations with medical aid and potable water.

Top administration officials who would oversee implementation of the new tsunami mitigation policies described the administration's plans in the second panel. John Marburger from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy indicated that S. 50 was consistent with the Administration's proposal. Several witnesses and Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR) urged that measures to engage regional, state and local officials in mitigation plans be prioritized for northwestern states that are vulnerable to near-shore events.


House Science Committee
Hearing on the Tsunami Warning System
January 26, 2005

Dr. Charles "Chip" Groat, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
Brigadier General David L. Johnson (ret.), Assistant Administrator of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Director of the National Weather Service (NWS)
Dr. John Orcutt, Deputy Director for Research at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and President of the American Geophysical Union
Dr. Arthur Lerner-Lam, Director of the Center for Hazards and Risk Research in the Earth Institute at Columbia University
Mr. Jay Wilson, Earthquake and Tsunami Programs Coordinator for Oregon Emergency Management

On January 26th, NOAA and USGS officials were called to present their joint proposal for a U.S. tsunami warning system at a House Science Committee Hearing. Dr. Groat and Gen. Johnson listed the technical operations they will expand in coordination with expanding the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) pressed the need for a comprehensive approach, while other expert witnesses emphasized the need to support effective local and regional tsunami hazard mitigation plans.

"Detection is only one piece of the kind of comprehensive effort that is needed to reduce vulnerability to tsunamis. Warning systems, education, research and development, land-use planning, and ecosystem protection are all necessary if any program is to be effective," Chairman Boehlert said in his opening statement.

The Bush Administration's plan commits $37.5 million to the two agencies over the next two years. Gen. Johnson testified he would invest NOAA's allotted $24 million in 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. Within his proposal were plans to improve inter-agency notification, implement 24/7 operations at the National Earthquake Information Center, upgrade equipment, further develop population impact and hazard assessment maps, provide real-time data, increase maintenance schedules, and increase relevant geologic research. He identified a 10-14 percent chance for a tsunami of similar magnitude to hit the U.S. within the next 50 years.

Other expert witnesses had several suggestions to improve the administration's proposal. Mr. Wilson stated that NOAA's global effort was inadequate to notify the most at-risk northwestern states for near-shore tsunamis and requested that $2 million of NOAAs funds be allocated permanently to emergency management programs in each of the five states that currently participate in the National Tsunami Mitigation Program (NTMP). When questioned by Chairman Boehlert, Dr. Groat agreed the government needs to support both NOAA and NTMP programs, and Gen. Johnson specified 1.5 million would be allocated to cover mapping and outreach.

When asked by Ranking Member Bart Gordon (D-TN) about whether other programs would suffer funding cuts, Dr. Groat replied "I don't anticipate the USGS will need to offset other programs in order to meet the needs of the new plan."


Sources: The American Institute of Physics Bulletin of Science Policy News, Hearing Testimony.

Contributed by Emily Lehr Wallace, AGI Government Affairs Program Staff; Katie Ackerly, 2005 AGI/AAPG Spring Semester Intern

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

Last updated on February 7, 2005.

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