Tsunami legislation introduced in US Senate

Senators from states most vulnerable to tsunami activity introduced legislation to upgrade and modernize the US tsunami warning system.

Sens. Ted Stevens, an Alaska Republican, Daniel Inouye, a Hawaii Democrat, and Maria Cantwell, a Washington state Democrat, said the bill would expand on a Bush administration plan to erect a tsunami warning system to protect the Pacific and Atlantic coasts by mid-2007.

The Bush administration announced a US$37.5 million plan 14 January to quadruple the size of the warning network in the Pacific and build similar protections for the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf coasts. Operating the system would cost about US$24.5 million a year.

The administration plan envisions a network of 38 high-tech buoys attached to pressure recorders on the ocean floor. Twenty-five buoys would be added to the six now in the Pacific, including two as back-ups to existing ones off the coast of Alaska.

Five buoys would be installed in the Atlantic and two in the Caribbean Sea to provide coverage for the Gulf of Mexico. None exist in those areas.

The bill introduced in the US Senate Monday would authorize up to $35 million a year for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to upgrade tsunami detection and warning capabilities on the East and West coasts and Gulf of Mexico; expand tsunami research; and require NOAA to repair immediately malfunctioning tsunami-detection buoys.

Western lawmakers have complained that three of the six tsunami-warning buoys in the Pacific Ocean are broken.

Stevens and Inouye are the chairman and senior Democrat, respectively, on the Senate Commerce Committee, which will consider the bill.

“Protecting human life and property from natural disaster requires the ability to reliably detect and forecast” tsunamis, Inouye said. “The people of Hawaii and Alaska have long memories of the threat of tsunami.” Both states have been hit by the destructive waves.

Cantwell, who toured NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle on Sunday, said the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami which killed more than 160,000 people showed the United States is not fully prepared for a similar disaster.

“If what happened in Indonesia happened here, I’m not sure we have sufficient plans in place” to deal with the consequences, she said.

Scientists at the marine environmental lab, which is developing tsunami-monitoring technology, said a buoy about 250 miles off the Washington coast has been malfunctioning for about 14 months.

In Ottawa, the Canadian minister responsible for emergency preparedness said Monday that Canada wants to take part in the US programme to expand the tsunami warning system to the Atlantic Ocean.

“They will extend that system into the Atlantic and quite clearly we are very interested in that and will take part in whatever way is appropriate,” said Anne McLellan, who is also deputy prime minister.

McLellan had no figures on how much Canada’s participation would cost when she addressed a news conference after meeting provincial and territorial ministers responsible for emergency response.