Order Code RL32739
Tsunamis: Monitoring, Detection,
and Early Warning Systems
Updated May 10, 2007
Wayne A. Morrissey
Information Research Specialist (Science & Technology)
Knowledge Services Group
Tsunamis: Monitoring, Detection,
and Early Warning Systems
Congress is concerned about the possible vulnerability of U.S. coastal areas to
tsunamis and the adequacy of early warning for coastal areas. This stems from a
December 26, 2004, tsunami that devastated many coastal areas around the northern
Indian Ocean, where few tsunami early warning systems had operated. Caused by
a strong underwater earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, the tsunami
claimed an estimated 220,000 lives. Nations affected by the 2004 tsunami, assisted
by other counties, launched a multilateral effort to develop a network for regional
tsunami detection and warning of coastal populations around the Indian Ocean, the
Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System (IOTWS). The UNESCO Intergovernmental
Oceanographic Commission (IOC) leads that international effort. To leverage costs
of the IOTWS, IOC members have suggested using extant ocean observation and
monitoring networks, data collection systems, marine buoys and tide gage networks,
and global telecommunications systems. This may pose the technical challenge of
standardizing communication protocols to ensure interoperability of international
systems. Also, supporters of the IOTWS consider a fully deployed U.S. network an
important component of a future global tsunami warning capability.
In January 2005, President Bush proposed to expand U.S. tsunami detection and
early warning coverage. Implementing that plan was expected to cost almost $30
million dollars to build the infrastructure for detection and warning and maintain
operations over the long-term. Some U.S. lawmakers argued that the benefits far
outweighed the costs; however, others questioned whether the risks of tsunamis
outside the Pacific Basin justified the investment. In July 2005, President Bush
released a plan to expand the U.S. network from its currently operating six Deep
Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) buoys to a planned 39 for
monitoring the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea.
Congress passed emergency appropriations for FY2005 and approved funding
through FY2007 to procure and deploy a comprehensive detection and warning
network. Amounts allocated for FY2006 enabled the National Weather Service to
begin expansion of the network and provided for longer-term operations and
maintenance. For FY2008, the President requested funding to complete the U.S.
network. Also, the 109th Congress passed the Tsunami Warning and Education Act
(P.L. 109-424) addressing tsunami-related social issues.
Some developed countries around the Indian Ocean were operating tsunami
warning systems when the 2004 disaster occurred, but they guarded only their Pacific
shores. Disaster management experts contend that any warning system is most useful
where there are expansive regional or local-based emergency management
capabilities. Some areas devastated by the tsunami lacked a local communication
infrastructure to disseminate tsunami warnings, leaving officials incapable of rapidly
alerting populations to evacuate or to take appropriate safety precautions. Experts
assert that emergency planning is not only about issuing warnings, but also educating
indigenous people and visitors about tsunami dangers, communicating evacuation
options clearly, and adapting to potential risks. This report will not be updated.
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1
A Global Tsunami Early Warning System? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
Challenges . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
International Proposals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
Communication of Tsunami Warnings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
U.Sx. DART Buoys for the Indian Ocean . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Tsunami Protection for the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Bush Administration Actions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
President Bush’s Tsunami Action Plan . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
National Weather Service Tsunami Programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
Tsunami Warning Centers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP) . . . . . . . . . . 9
Tsunami Detection Operations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Other Supporting Technologies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Related and Contributing U.Sx. Programs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
The U.Sx. Geological Survey (USGS) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
World Weather Watch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
National All Hazards Weather Radio (NAHWR) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Cooperative Protection for the Pacific Basin . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
Appendix A: Tsunami-Related Legislation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Legislation in the 109th Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Sx. 50 (Inouye) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
HxR. 1674 (Boehlert) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Appendix B: U.Sx. Tsunami Warning Program Funding . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
List of Figures
Figure 1. Proposed U.Sx. DART Buoy Network . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
Figure 2. NOAA DART Platform . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
List of Tables
Table 1. NOAA U.Sx. Tsunami Program Funding: FY2001-FY2008 . . . . . . . . 24
Table 2. Strengthening the U.Sx. Tsunami Warning Program:
Details of the President’s FY2008 Request . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Tsunamis: Monitoring, Detection,
and Early Warning Systems
On December 26, 2004, a tsunami disaster was triggered by an underwater
earthquake off the west coast of northern Sumatra in Indonesia.1 Based on physical
evidence of displacement of the sea floor, U.S. seismologists determined the
earthquake to have been a Mw 9.2.2 The ensuing tsunami devastated many coastal
areas around the northern Indian Ocean and, with the earthquake, caused economic
upheaval in many areas. International disaster agencies estimated that more than
220,000 people may have lost their lives as a direct result of the tsunami.3 The
disaster prompted some Members of the 109th Congress to raise questions about (1)
the possibility of tsunamis occurring in U.S. coastal areas, (2) the extent to which
these areas are currently monitored, (3) how tsunamis might be detected, and (4)
whether there is a national capacity to issue evacuation warnings for tsunamis.
On January 5, 2005, the House Science Committee, the House Coastal Caucus,
and the House Oceans Caucus co-sponsored a briefing organized by the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS) of the Department of the Interior whose purpose was to
consider possible implications of the type of the tsunami disaster that occurred in the
Indian Ocean for the United States. Experts from USGS and the National Oceanic
and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the Department of Commerce delivered
presentations about the scientific circumstances surrounding the Indian Ocean
tsunami and discussed international capabilities for tsunami monitoring, detection,
and early warning.4
A tsunami is a seismic sea wave (or a series of waves) usually generated by an underwater
earthquake or landslide, but occasionally caused by volcanic eruption or major landslide into
the ocean. Tsunami is translated from Japanese as “harbor wave.”
Mw, the moment of magnitude, is a way to measure the force of an earthquake’s total
seismic energy released as a function of rock rigidity in the fault, the total area of contact
where friction occurs, and the amount of slippage (or displacement). It is used for
earthquakes greater than M8.2 on the Richter scale.
U.N. World Health Organization, Department of Health Measurement and Information
Systems, “Asian Tsunami: Death-Toll Addiction and its Downside,” by Michel Thieren.
Available at [http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/83/2/82.pdf].
Presenters at that briefing included, David Applegate, Science Advisor for Earthquake and
Geological Hazards at the USGS; General David Johnson, Assistant Director of NOAA’s
National Weather Service; Gregg Withee, Assistant Director for NOAA Satellite and
Information Services; and Eddie Bernard, Associate Director of NOAA’s Pacific Marine
Environmental Laboratory (teleconferencing from Seattle, WA).
Scientists and emergency experts who assessed the damage after the December
26, 2004, tsunami disaster found that there were few, if any, systems for monitoring
tsunamis in the Indian Ocean, and little, if any, capability to warn populations locally.
Some nations affected by the tsunami, including Australia and Indonesia, did have
tsunami early warning systems, but they monitored only their Pacific shores where
they perceived the greatest threat.5 Due to the geographic proximity of many human
settlements to where the tsunami was generated, and without ability to receive
tsunami warnings rapidly, post-disaster assessments indicate that for Indonesia’s
Indian Ocean coastal populations emergency communications would have been
useless in many cases. Other findings show that many indigenous people and tourists
were not educated about the dangers of tsunamis or aware of the physical warning
signs of an onset of a tsunami. Also, for some communities, no backup procedure
to issue evacuation alerts was included in local or regional emergency plans if
“lifelines” such as electric utilities and telecommunications were disrupted.6
On January 29, 2005, the House Committee on Science, and on February 2,
2005, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held
hearings about the need for expanding tsunami early warning protection for the
United States and its possessions. Also discussed were long-term goals for guarding
non-U.S. coastal regions. Legislation introduced in the 109th Congress prior to these
hearings by Senator Lieberman of Connecticut (S. 34) and Senator Inouye of Hawaii
(S. 50) called for a rapid U.S. response to upgrade existing U.S. capacity for tsunami
warning in the Pacific, and to expand operations to include the Atlantic Ocean, the
Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. Senator Inouye’s bill was closely aligned
with President Bush’s proposal for U.S. tsunami protection released on January 14,
2005.7 In addition, S. 50 addressed related social issues such as tsunami disaster
education, emergency preparedness, adaptation, and mitigation. (See “Appendix
Although most deadly tsunamis have occurred historically in the western Pacific
Ocean, examples of recorded events and empirical scientific evidence for the eastern
Pacific and North Atlantic Oceans go back centuries. In 1692, a tsunami generated
by massive underwater landslides in the Atlantic Puerto Rican Trench reached
Jamaica’s coast, causing an estimated 2,000 deaths. In 1775, a tsunami struck in the
eastern Atlantic Ocean on the coast of Portugal, killing an estimated 60,000 people.
In 1929, a tsunami generated in the Grand Banks region of the east coast of Canada
General David L. Johnson, “NOAA Tsunami and Natural Disaster Information,” Jan. 5,
2005 House briefing.
Lifelines are emergency response services, hospitals, other care facilities, energy and water
delivery systems, telecommunications, and electronic commerce. See U.S. Congress,
Senate, Committee on Commerce Science and Transportation, Earthquake Hazards
Reduction Act, Report to Accompany S. 910, 105th Cong., 1st sess., S.Rept. 105-59
(Washington: GPO, 1997), p. 3.
U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, “U.S. Announces Plan for Improved
Tsunami Detection and Warning System,” press release, OSTP News, Jan. 14, 2005,
available at [http://www.ostp.gov/html/Tsunamiplanrelease.pdf], accessed Dec. 1, 2006.
See also Eli Kintisch, “South Asia Tsunami: U.S. Clamor Grows for Global Network of
Sensors,” Science, vol. 307, Jan. 14, 2005, p. 191.
hit Newfoundland, killing 51 people. It was the third lethal tsunami for Canada’s
Atlantic Coast within 150 years.8
A Global Tsunami Early Warning System?
In the wake of the 2004 tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, many international
agencies expected that there would be technical, financial, and political challenges
to overcome before a multinational tsunami early warning network could be
established for the Indian Ocean or other international earthquake-prone areas, such
as the Black Sea. In some ways, those developed nations that had the resources and
capability to establish their own regional emergency management networks for
disaster warning and those who had executed comprehensive disaster plans were able
to avoid some of the challenges.
After the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, international science agencies called
for an inventory of existing capacity for tsunami monitoring, detection, and warning
systems that would be conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. That
inventory would provide a baseline from which outstanding requirements for such
a network would be determined. Government policy analysts raised technological
and national security issues as a consequence of building and sharing a truly “global”
tsunami early warning network. Technological issues included international
standards for tsunami warning instrumentation, data collection, and communications
protocols required of systems that would receive data and relay warnings. National
security issues included proposed open access to and sabotage of international
telecommunication networks. Also, U.S. intelligence experts were concerned that
certain data collected could be considered sensitive and might reveal methodologies
that could compromise U.S. and other nations’ intelligence-gathering operations.
Development of a “truly global” tsunami early warning system with a capability
for issuing regional and local warnings has required involvement of many nations
with widely varying technological capabilities and financial resources. Reports
indicate that international political leaders expected that most of the responsibility
for paying for such a system would fall on the wealthiest nations. Resources to
procure state-of-the-art monitoring and detection technology, including scientific
instruments, platforms, and communications networks; to sustain international cost
sharing; and to provide long-term operations and maintenance of such systems appear
to be the most critical obstacle toward achieving a collaborative international effort
for tsunami detection and early warning.
At a January 2005 House briefing, Assistant Director of NOAA for Satellite and
Information Services, Gregg Withee, raised another issue when he testified that some
Statistics on deaths resulting from tsunamis were compiled by CRS from online sources,
including data from the Tsunami Laboratory of Novosibirsk, Russia, NOAA’s National
Geophysical Data Center, the University of Southern California, Tsunami Research Group,
and others. See [http://geology.about.com/library/bl/bltsunamideathtable.htm].
nations in the Indian Ocean, including India, and elsewhere, maintained proprietary
rights to their real-time satellite data, meaning that global monitoring and disaster
response institutions would have to pay for the data.9 Some of these data, Withee
asserted, could be critical for detecting and tracking tsunamis in the Indian Ocean and
assessing post-disaster damage.
On January 6, 2005, the United Nations proposed an international effort to
develop a tsunami early warning capacity for potentially vulnerable populations
located on Indian Ocean coasts. That endeavor is spearheaded by the U.N.
Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Intergovernmental
Oceanographic Commission (IOC). In addition, Australia, Japan, Thailand, and India
initiated individual efforts to expand existing monitoring capacity for Indian Ocean
coastlines.10 The United States — a member of UNESCO — became involved in the
international effort early on. The Government of Thailand held a ministerial meeting
in Phuket, January 28-29, 2005, on tsunami early warning protection for the Indian
Ocean and Southeast Asia. President Bush’s Science Advisor and Director of the
Office of Science and Technology Policy, John Marburger III, represented the United
States.11 This meeting was followed by an IOC summit in Paris, France, in March
2005. Attendees included representatives from Indian Ocean countries affected by
the December 26, 2004, tsunami, and IOC members. The Director of the UN
International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) chaired the event.12 IOC
officials stated the session was the first of its kind to firm up plans and commitments
for an internationally coordinated tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean,
including soliciting various member countries’ financial pledges.
Communication of Tsunami Warnings. The Director of NOAA’s
National Weather Service (NWS), Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, USAF, (Ret.) —
who also testified in January 2005 congressional hearings on U.S. tsunami early
warning capabilities — emphasized that in addition to a network to monitor and
Gregg Withee, January 5, 2005 House briefing. Stefan Maus of NOAA’s National
Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) of the NOAA Environmental Satellite program (NESDIS)
visited India October 22 to November 20, 2005 to enhance the exchange of geomagnetic
data for space weather, main field, and crustal field modeling.
British Broadcasting Corporation, “Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System,” BBC News,
Dec. 23, 2005, available at [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/4524642.stm].
“Thailand, India and Indonesia are forging ahead with their own systems and Australia,
Malaysia and Singapore are planning to develop warning capacities.”
U.S. Executive Office of the President, Office of Science and Technology Policy, “OSTP
Director John Marburger to Head U.S. Delegation at Thai-Sponsored Meeting to Develop
Tsunami Early Warning System for Indian Ocean and Southeast Asia,” press release, Jan.
UN ISDR, “Meeting in Paris to Plan Tsunami Early-Warning System,” Press Release:
IHA/1019 (Geneva, Mar. 1, 2005). See also, ISDR, Proposed Strategy for Building
Resilience to Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean 2006-2008, Jan. 27, 2006. Available at
detect possible tsunamis, emergency communication infrastructures are critical for
disseminating tsunami warnings regionally or locally so as to safeguard Indian,
western Atlantic, and far Pacific Oceans’ coastal populations. He noted that in some
regions at risk for tsunamis, local disaster management capabilities may be
inadequate or non-existent.
Johnson emphasized that NOAA’s responsibilities for tsunami warnings
terminate after communications are relayed to the Federal Emergency Management
Agency (FEMA) in the Department of Homeland Security and to international
emergency management officials.13 He added that in the United States local or
regional forecasts and warnings of severe weather issued by NWS weather forecast
offices are often picked up and distributed by local emergency managers and the
broadcast media and that the NWS broadcasts warnings directly to individuals and
institutions (e.g., public schools possessing NOAA Weather Radio receivers).
NOAA’s Administrator, Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr. (Ret. Navy),
leads the U.S. effort for developing and implementing an international, collaborative
Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS). This initiative also addresses
building capacity for global tsunami early detection and warning capabilities. Billed
as “an excellent example of science serving society,” Lautenbacher has indicated that
GEOSS’s infrastructure will be built upon extant environmental data collection
platforms, telecommunication capabilities, environmental observation systems, and
communication lines operating around the world.14 Through planned interoperability
of GEOSS and other systems, the United States would assist other IOC members in
developing a tsunami early warning capacity in the Indian Ocean and eventually a
more expansive global network.15 (See also “Tsunami Detection Operations.”) With
respect to domestic and international discussions on developing new generation stateof-the-art deep water tsunami detection instrumentation, the U.S. Congress has urged
that whatever technologies are adopted to upgrade the U.S. tsunami warning network
U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Science, Commerce and Transportation, United
States Tsunami Preparedness, hearing, Feb. 2, 2005. Oral testimony of Brig. Gen. Jack
Kelly, Jr., former NWS Director, and present Deputy Administrator for NOAA on behalf
of Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, Jr. (U.S. Navy, Ret.) Undersecretary of Commerce
for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, Department of Commerce.
U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology,
“World Weather Program: The Global Observing System: Its Impacts and Future,” by
BGEN John J. Kelly Jr., (USAF, Ret.), The Federal Plan for Meteorological Services and
Supporting Research: Fiscal Year 2006, Report FCM P1-2005, Appendix B: 237-243
(Washington, DC: October 2005). Other examples of international communications
networks are included.
For example, one of the international observation networks currently being developed and
proposed to be a major component of GEOSS is the International Global Ocean Observing
System (IGOOS). Another is a potential network of thousands of ARGO floats that monitor
global climate variability in the equatorial Pacific, known collectively as the ARGO Array.
For more information on ocean observing systems, see U.S. Congress, House Resources
Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, and Wildlife, Status of Ocean Observing Systems
in the United States, Oversight Hearing, serial no. 108-102, July 13, 2004 (Washington,
DC: GPO, 2005).
also serve multiple purposes to enhance future global environmental observations of
systems such as GEOSS.
Most international science agencies and non-governmental organizations
representing Indian Ocean nations generally support the developing GEOSS as the
infrastructure for a future global tsunami early warning network. Many other nations
praised President Bush’s January 2005 proposal and then his July 2005 “action plan”
for a U.S. tsunami warning system as “a good start,” and a model for a global system.
U.S. DART Buoys for the Indian Ocean. At a May 2006 meeting in
Melbourne, Australia, the United States laid out plans for lending two “surplus”
state-of-the-art Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART II)
buoys for “operational detection of tsunami and verification of non-events in the
Indian Ocean.”16 U.S. contributions, and similar contributions from other developed
countries such as Germany, are helping to establish a limited archetypical IOTWS in
the near-term. NOAA selected two sites to deploy the Dart buoys:17 (1) near the
Andaman Islands off Sumatra, Indonesia at, 0oN and (2) between Colombo, Sri
Lanka, and Phuket, Thailand, at 9oN. NOAA deployed the first buoy in December
2006 to commemorate the anniversary of the 2004 disaster. The second deployment
is scheduled for May 2007. NOAA officials say that they would provide technical
assistance and some funding for operation and maintenance (O&M) through
whatever entity is established to manage the IOTWS. The IOC is also discussing
mechanisms to fund a “tsunami watch capacity” that would include long-term O&M
of the entire IOTWS. Many IOC members have agreed that the development and
deployment of the IOTWS provides opportunities and platforms for hosting other
environmental sensors. They also have suggested joint uses of international fleets to
assist in deployment and maintenance of the buoys.18
Tsunami Protection for the United States
In January 2005, Representative Pallone of New Jersey called for establishing
a tsunami detection and warning network for the U.S. Atlantic coast, Gulf of Mexico,
and Caribbean Sea.19 Other lawmakers questioned whether the risk of a tsunami for
ICG/IOTWS Working Group 2 on Sea Level Data Collection and Exchange, Including
Deep Ocean Tsunami Detection Instruments, Draft Minutes: Annex IV, Proposal by U.S.
for Contribution of Two DART Buoys to the IOTWS, in Inter-sessional Meeting, 1-2, May
2006, Melbourne, Australia, pp. 16-25, [41 p.], available at [http://ioc3.unesco.org/
Their placement is outside the limits of any single nation’s Exclusive Enterprise
IGO/PTWS Coordination Group, Article 4.9, p. 8.
Statement of Representative Frank Pallone, Congressional Record, Jan. 4, 2005: H40.
“There has been a lot of discussion and I think there is a need to expand the tsunami early
warning system that exists in the Pacific not only to the Indian Ocean but also possibly to
the east coast justified such expenditures. At January 2005 congressional briefings,
NOAA scientists pointed out the potential dangers related to the Puerto Rican Trench
— the deepest point in the western Atlantic Ocean — to assure that the risks were
real.20 They cited massive landslides and sloughing that have occurred historically
along the North American continental shelf and strong underwater earthquakes that
occurred off the coast of Puerto Rico, which, in some cases, generated tsunamis that
caused loss of life in the thousands and widespread property damage.21
New Hampshire, among other states, has had a contingency plan for tsunami
emergencies and has managed a clearinghouse of information about historical
tsunami disasters that have affected the northeast United States.22 In 2005, two U.S.
communities in the western Atlantic basin became the first of NWS TsunamiReady
communities outside the Pacific Basin. One of these was in Florida on the Gulf of
Mexico and the other was Norfolk, VA, on the mid-Atlantic Coast.23 Since then, five
other Atlantic coast states and Puerto Rico have been declared TsunamiReady by
NWS. In contrast, some areas potentially at risk for tsunamis in the eastern Pacific
Ocean, including the U.S. mainland, Alaska, and Hawaii have had tsunami
emergency evacuation plans in place for over 40 years.
Bush Administration Actions
On January 14, 2005, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
(OSTP) announced a proposal for an improved tsunami warning and detection system
for the United States.24 The President’s plan stated that 32 dedicated tsunami
warning and detection DART buoys would be procured and deployed by mid-2007.
The President’s stated goal was to improve tsunami detection for the far Pacific and
Atlantic Oceans, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea.
President Bush’s Tsunami Action Plan. In December 2005, President
Bush released Tsunami Risk Reduction for the United States: A Framework for
the Atlantic Ocean and throughout the world.”
USGS, Woods Hole Science Center, “Caribbean Tsunami and Earthquake Hazards
Studies Program,” available at [http://woodshole.er.usgs.gov/projects/project_get.php?proj
See “The Puerto Rico Trench: Implications for Plate Tectonics: Earthquake and Tsunami
Hazards” at [http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/explorations/03trench/trench/trench.html] and
also, University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, The Puerto Rico Warning and Mitigation
Program at [http://poseidon.uprm.edu].
State of New Hampshire, “Disaster Plan 409,” Sect. II, Geological Hazards, Seismic
Hazards, at [http://www.nhoem.state.nh.us/mitigation/state_of_new_hampshire.asp]. See
also NOAA, National Weather Service TsunamiReady Program, “Is your Community Ready
for the Next Tsunami?,” at [http://tsunami.gov].
NOAA, National Weather Service, “TsunamiReady Communities,” available at
U.S. EOP, OSTP, Press release, Jan. 14, 2005.
Action (dated July 2005).25 This plan outlined steps to be taken to reduce tsunami
risk on the U.S. mainland, Hawaii, and U.S. territories in the far Pacific Ocean and
Caribbean Sea.26 To implement recommendations in his plan, President Bush
proposed $20.4 million for the NWS for FY2007. He also requested $3.95 million
for USGS’s Global Seismic Network (GSN) upgrades, about $35,000 more than
FY2006-enacted funding. That funding would enable real-time telemetry for 20%
of 127 global seismic sensing platforms which lack that capability. (See “Appendix
B,” Table 1.)
To complement the President’s plan, some social scientists argued for
“institutionalizing” a public education component in implementing legislation that
might serve to protect the United States from tsunamis.27 They envisioned training
of local authorities as resident developers and deliverers of disaster education and
local tsunami emergency planning, in addition to interagency resource sharing at all
levels of government and a visible federal agency-presence within the community.28
Finally, they recommend adaptation as an alternative means of disaster management,
such as using low-tech, high-impact solutions for disseminating public evacuation
orders.29 (See Appendix A, S. 50, 109th Cong.)
National Weather Service Tsunami Programs
NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) has managed the U.S. operational
program for tsunami warnings in U.S. Pacific coastal areas and has played a role in
international tsunami protection. The National Tsunami Warning Program (NTWP)
consists of two U.S. tsunami warning centers that monitor, detect, and warn for
possible tsunamis generated in the Pacific Ocean.
Executive Office of the President, National Science and Technology Council, Tsunami
Risk Reduction For the United States: A Framework for Action, A Joint Report of the
Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction and the United States Group on Earth Observations,
July 2005 (released December 2005).
Ibid., Ch. 4, “International Cooperation.”
Eileen Shea, Project Coordinator, East West Center, Honolulu, HI, “Testimony,” Senate
Commerce Tsunami Preparedness hearing, Feb. 2, 2005, available at [http://commerce.
See Government Accountability Office (GAO), “State and Local Tsunami Hazard
Mitigation Activities Are Under Way although Implementation Varies Considerably among
Locations,” in U.S. Tsunami Preparedness: Federal and State Partners Collaborate to Help
Communities Reduce Potential Impacts, but Significant Challenges Remain, GAO Report
GAO-06-519, June 2006, p. 29. Prepared for Congressional Committees and Senator Diane
See Eileen Shea, Project Coordinator, East West Center, Honolulu, HI, “Testimony,”
Senate Commerce Tsunami Preparedness hearing, Feb. 2, 2005, available at
An associated program under the NTWP concentrates on reducing the rate of
false tsunami alarms issued for the Pacific Ocean. The National Tsunami Hazards
Mitigation Program (NTHMP) assists states in emergency planning and in
developing maps of potential coastal innundation for a tsunami of a given intensity.
The NTHMP also operates tsunami disaster outreach and education programs
through NOAA’s TsunamiReady program.
Tsunami Warning Centers. The NWS operates the Pacific Tsunami
Warning Center (PTWC) at Ewa Beach, HI, and the West Coast/Alaska Tsunami
Warning Center (WC/AKTWC) at Palmer, AK. The PTWC monitors for tsunamis
and issues warnings for the Hawaiian Islands, the U.S. Pacific territories, and other
U.S. and international interests in the Pacific Basin. The center was established in
1949, after a strong earthquake and massive landslides off the coast of southwest
Alaska caused a disastrous tsunami for the Hawaiian Islands only hours later. The
WC/AKTWC was established in 1967, following a devastating earthquake of Mw9.2
that struck Anchorage, AK, in 1964 and caused major earthquake and localized
tsunami damages.30 The WC/AKTWC is responsible for issuing tsunami warnings
to emergency management officials in Alaska, British Columbia (Canada),
Washington State, Oregon, and California. The WC/AKTWC now also serves as the
center for warning U.S. populations located in the western Atlantic Ocean and is
linked by telemetry with seven deep ocean DART buoys currently deployed off U.S.
Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico shores. (See Figure 1).
National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP). In 1992,
NOAA launched the NTHMP to address the credibility of Pacific tsunami warnings.
At that time, there had been a 75% false-alarm rate for tsunamis. Local officials in
Hawaii became concerned about significant social upheaval and economic disruption
being caused by false alarms and whether the public would continue to heed future
tsunami warnings. Through technological progress and iterative improvements, the
false-alarm error rate has improved significantly since then. In addition, periodic
drills are conducted by the Hawaiian government to familiarize the public with
proper emergency procedures to be followed in the event of an actual disaster.
Another major research effort at NTHMP considers the potential for a sizable
earthquake in the Pacific Northwest Cascadia Region which USGS scientists and
others believe would generate tsunamis that could severely damage several U.S.
Pacific coastal regions.31 The NTHMP has worked with five Pacific states — Alaska,
California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington — and is now working with five
Atlantic states and Puerto Rico in developing local tsunami emergency preparedness
plans for “communities-at-risk” as part of NOAA’s TsunamiReady program.32
See NOAA, NWS, “How TsunamiReady Helps Communities and Counties at Risk,”
available at [http://www.stormready.noaa.gov/tsunamiready/].
USGS, “Local Tsunami Hazards in the Pacific Northwest from Cascadia Subduction Zone
Earthquakes,” by Eric L. Geist, at [http://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/pp1661b/pp1661b.pdf].
NOAA, NWS, TsunamiReady, at [http://www.stormready.noaa.gov/tsunamiready/
Figure 1. Proposed U.S. DART Buoy Network
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “NOAA Increases Tsunami Warning Capability for the Most Threatened Parts of the United States,” December 22, 2006.
Available at [http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2006/s2765.htm].
NTHMP research and development has resulted in technology transferred to
assist tsunami warning operations. An example is a tsunami disaster model which
— with the requisite seismic data and knowledge of location of where a tsunami is
triggered — can project the trajectory and intensity of ensuing waves. The NTHMP
also assists states on behalf of coastal communities in producing maps of potential
Tsunami Detection Operations. NOAA currently operates a network of
20 dedicated tsunami detection and relay stations as part of the NWS DART
Program. NWS will deploy a total of 39 stations as the backbone of the U.S. tsunami
early warning network.33 (See Figure 1 for DART buoy locations and Figure 2 for
the technical components.) In April 2006, seven DART buoys were added to the
U.S. network and deployed in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of
Mexico.34 Eventually, 32 U.S. DART buoys will operate in the Pacific Ocean,
including the current three off the Alaskan Peninsula and three in the mid-Pacific
Ocean. Another DART buoy was developed for the Chilean government and is
deployed in the eastern South Pacific Ocean off Chile’s coast. Although the United
States and partnering nations that rely on the network may have the capability for
early detection of tsunamis, NOAA officials have cautioned that subsequent warnings
are only effective if national emergency officials can receive those communications
and, in turn, alert the public to take the necessary precautions or actions.
Other Supporting Technologies. In addition to a planned 39 operating
DART buoys, the NWS operates hundreds of marine weather buoys around U.S.
coasts. These buoys provide data for telecommunications-capable, meteorologicalinstrumented platforms which have figured into the overall plans for an expanded
U.S. tsunami early warning network.35 Also, tide gages off all U.S. coasts and in the
Great Lakes can detect sudden surges and other disturbances such as changes in
submarine pressures which may be indicative of a possible approaching tsunami.36
Hugh B. Milburn et al., “Real-Time Tsunami Reporting from the Deep Ocean,” NOAA
Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (1996), at [http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/Dart/
NOAA FY07 Budget Briefing, National Press Club, Washington, DC, Feb. 9, 2006. See
also Figure 1.
For example, NWS weather buoys record data, such as temperature, wind speed and
direction, and atmospheric pressure at a fixed location. Other “drifting” marine data buoys
measure the speed of ocean currents, changes in salinity (or density) of the ocean, and
changes in sea surface from the “mean height.” Sea surface height data can also be collected
by sensors on U.S. satellites. In all cases, those data are relayed to ground receiving
The National Ocean Service (NOS) operates the National Water Level Observation
Network of tide-gages off all U.S. coasts and in the Great Lakes (NWLON). In major U.S.
harbors the NOS PORTS program, in addition to operating tide gages, assesses the physical
conditions of shipping channels which may bear on how a tsunami might impact that
particular location. National tide gage operations are also found in other countries.
Figure 2. NOAA DART Platform
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, from “U.S. Announces Plans for an
Improved Tsunami Warning and Detection System.” See [http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/
stories2005/s2369.htm], accessed January 18, 2005.
In addition to weather and marine navigational buoys, about 1,000 of a planned
array of 3,000 ARGO “drifter” floats currently operate in the equatorial Pacific
Ocean. These are used for monitoring short-term climate variability and operate
primarily to detect ocean conditions associated with El Niños and La Niñas (periodic
climate adjustments in the ocean that affect global weather). NOAA officials have
advocated using ARGO floats as platforms for situating tsunami detection
instrumentation as well as other instrumentation to build a Global Ocean
Observation System, calling the ARGO Array the “next step in global
observations.”37 As early as in the 108th Congress, prior to the Indian Ocean disaster,
NOAA/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Observing the Ocean in Real-Time: Argo,
a Global Array of Profiling Floats to Understand and Forecast Climate, ed. Stan Wilson
(1996). Funded in part by private academic institutions.
legislation had been introduced to consider the auxiliary technologies that might
enhance a U.S. tsunami detection and warning network.38
For the eastern United States, NOAA officials have suggested other platforms
for tsunami monitoring and detection in the Atlantic Ocean such as regional coastal
and ocean observation networks currently operating or being developed for the
eastern seaboard of Canada, U.S. coastal waters, and the Great Lakes. In support of
U.S. interests in the Gulf of Mexico coasts, in the Caribbean Sea, and Atlantic coasts
of the Greater Antilles, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez developed and
now operates a regional tsunami warning system and communications network.39
Related and Contributing U.S. Programs
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is improving the earthquake monitoring
and warning capabilities of the Global Seismic Network (GSN) by upgrading stations
that have not had real-time data communication ability. USGS has also increased
coverage of seismic alerts at the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) in
Golden, CO. Other alternatives for broadcasting tsunami warnings may include
radios, cellular phone networks, and the Internet to reach local officials or rural
populations. International telecommunications networks, such as the Global
Telecommunication System (GTS) (with common data transmission protocols)
provide a capability for emergency communications among worldwide government
institutions (i.e, weather bureaus).40
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). The USGS is also integral to the
NWS National Tsunami Warning Program. USGS operation of the Global Seismic
Network has been critical in identifying the potential for and issuing early warning
of tsunamis. The GSN is a network of 127 global seismic monitoring stations, some
of which are situated in the Indian Ocean. The GSN network is managed by the
Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), which is a consortium of
academic institutions involved in earthquake monitoring, detection, and modeling.41
On Jan. 5, 2005, Representative Curt Weldon circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter
advocating the reintroduction of H.R. 5001 (108th Congress), the Ocean and Coastal
Observation System Act, in the 109th Congress. This legislation promoted development of
an “Integrated Ocean Observation System,” to protect U.S. citizens in coastal communities
from tsunamis. For further information on U.S. ocean observation systems, see U.S. House
Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries, Conservation, and Oceans, Status of Ocean
Observing Systems in the United States, Oversight Hearing, serial no. 108-102, July 13,
2004 (Washington, DC: GPO 2005).
University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, Puerto Rico Tsunami Warning and Mitigation
Program, available at [http://poseidon.uprm.edu/].
Kenneth B. Allen, Director of the Partnership for Public Warning, “Letter to President
Bush,” Jan. 3, 2005, at [http://www.partnershipforpublicwarning.org/ppw/]. See also, Joab
Jackson, “Cisco, IBM Propose Internet-Based Disaster Alert System,” Government
Computer News, Feb. 11, 2005, available at [http://www.gcn.com].
Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), “Global Seismic Network
(GSN) at [http://www.iris.edu/about/GSN/].
Although the USGS does not monitor directly for tsunamigenesis,42 the GSN
measures intensity of land-based and submarine earthquakes around the globe in realtime. Depending on where they occur and their magnitude, the USGS determines
whether to alert NOAA (NWS) of the possible onset of a tsunami.
At the time of the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, USGS officials
indicated that only about 80% of GSN instruments had capability for real-time data
telemetry.43 In FY2005, P.L. 109-13 funded President Bush’s request to upgrade the
GSN network for 100% real-time communication capability. The 109th Congress
appropriated $8.1 million in emergency supplemental appropriations for that purpose.
Of the $8.1 million provided, a part of the funding was to increase the number of
seismic monitoring stations around the globe.44 Another part of the funding was to
increase the number of staff at the NEIC to monitor GSN data. Conferees on the
emergency funding bill noted that resources recommended for GSN upgrades might
enable USGS and NWS to exchange more comprehensive data and information for
tsunami modeling exercises in a more timely manner.
USGS scientists at the NEIC collect and analyze data on crustal deformation and
ocean floor displacement from earthquakes and determine which events may be
precursors to the generation of tsunamis. USGS topographical mapping data and
digital elevation models (DEM) have been used to develop more spatially accurate
tsunami inundation maps for potential communities-at-risk. The inundation maps
have assisted emergency managers in developing tsunami evacuation plans and have
also guided decisions of local government authorities in land-use planning and
private development by considering the possible impacts of tsunamis. USGS
primarily monitors for seismic activity on land, but its geologists have asserted that
land-based operations can be as important for tsunami detection and warning as deep
ocean buoys.45 In coastal areas of the United States, and especially along the Pacific
coast, earthquakes have generated landslides, some of which have resulted in abrupt
mass wasting of land into the ocean and displacing large volumes of water locally.
Large submarine landslides occur beneath the ocean and off the continental shelf
occasionally generating tsunamis. Other research has been conducted at USGS to
consider the potential effects on the U.S. Atlantic coast from a “super tsunami” that
may be caused by the collapse of a volcano in the Canary Islands off west Africa.46
The formation of a tsunami.
Dr. Charles Groat, Director of the USGS, presentation on the USGS FY2006 budget held
at the Dept. of the Interior, Washington, D.C., Feb. 7, 2005. Congress appropriated $8.1
million in emergency supplemental appropriations for FY2005 in P.L. 109-13.
Dr. Charles Groat, Director of the USGS, presentation on USGS FY2007 budget held at
the Dept. of the Interior, Washington, D.C., Feb. 6, 2006.
These include the USGS Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS), the Global Seismic
Network (GSN), National Strong-motion Program, and other U.S. regional networks and
cooperators. See [http://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/index.php?areaID=12].
Rossella Lorenzi, “Top World Tsunami Hotspots Detailed,” Discovery News (online), Jan.
11, 2005, available at [http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20050110/tsunamidanger.html].
“According to Simon Day, Benfield Greig Hazard Research Center at University College
World Weather Watch. The U.N. World Weather Watch (WWW) is a
cooperative program organized and administered by the U.N. World Meteorological
Organization (WMO). The mission of the WWW is to ensure that people no matter
where they are around the globe are adequately warned about possible severe weather
or dangerous ocean-related conditions.47 NOAA officials regard the global reach of
WWW networks and associated World Weather Program (WWP) data centers48 as
an important tool for communicating tsunami warnings and tsunami-related data and
information to international governments and scientific institutions respectively.
NOAA also has a leadership role in the WWW with respect to meteorological
data collection, management, and archiving.49 The Department of State negotiates
on behalf of the United States to achieve and maintain international agreements that
sustain WWW operations globally. WWW members, including the United States
and its Far Pacific trust territories, use established international telecommunications
protocols (GTS) for receiving and disseminating weather data, forecasts, and
National All Hazards Weather Radio (NAHWR). The NWS has operated
NOAA Weather Radio (NWR) for decades to warn individuals in their homes or at
public institutions such as schools and hospitals of the potential of severe weather
and to take appropriate action.50 In 2003, the Department of Homeland Security
London, U.K., geological evidence suggests that during a future eruption, Cumbre Vieja
Volcano on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, off West Africa, could experience
a catastrophic failure of the western flank.”
NOAA officials stress that, “The exchange and sharing of data on a worldwide basis is
a critical part of developing descriptions and the understanding of our global environment.”
U.S. Dept. of Commerce, NOAA, Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology,
“World Weather Program,” The Federal Plan for Meteorological Services and Supporting
Research: Fiscal Year 2005, Report FCM P1-2004, Appendix B: 223-228 (Washington,
DC: Oct. 2004). Examples of international communications networks are included.
NOAA, NESDIS, “About the World Data Center System.” Two of three WMO World
Weather Program (WWP) data centers are housed in NOAA’s Environmental Satellite and
Data and Information Service (NESDIS) National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC). (See,
[http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/wdc/wdcmain.html]). These data centers archive global weather
data and analysis, and are telecommunication enabled portals used for exchanging
meteorological and climatological data and scientific research around the globe. WWP data
archives provided valuable information for post-disaster assessment of the 2004 Indian
Ocean tsunami. See, for example, “NOAA Scientists Able to Measure Tsunami Height from
Space,” available at [http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2005/s2365.htm]. The U.S.
Global Earth Observation (GEO) Workplan for 2006 “identifies the WDCs as one of the
archives for data collected over coastal regions subject to tsunami risk.” See
NESDIS’s National Oceanic Data Center (NODC) maintains the NOAA/IOC long-term
archive of global tsunami events, including inundation, and damage data.
Over time, Congress has expanded the reach of NOAA NWR by authorizing funds to
construct more NWR transmission towers or adding repeaters that can be mounted on
(DHS) initiated discussions with NWS to collaborate and modify NWR to enable
dissemination of public warnings for all disasters, natural or otherwise.51 An
agreement between the two agencies paved the way for a DHS National All Hazards
Weather Radio Network (NAHWR) that would broadcast warnings and hazardrelated information over the existing NWR communications spectrum, now coined
the Public Alert network.52 NOAA has retained management of the NWR network.
DHS envisions NAHWR disseminating warnings of earthquakes, tsunamis,
volcanoes, floods, other natural disasters, and terrorist or industrial-related disasters.
In 2003, Congress provided $10 million in the Emergency Wartime Supplemental
Appropriations Act, 2003 (P.L. 108-11), to develop the architecture of the NAHWR
network.53 NOAA received appropriations of about $2.3 million for NWR in base
funding for local weather forecasts and warnings in FY2006 and the same amount for
FY2007 (P.L. 110-5). President Bush requested $2.3 million for NWR for FY2008.
However, some observers have argued that about $150 million is needed to develop
a broadband network capable of integrating multiple federal agency emergency
Despite progress with NAHWR, the NWR network still stands on its own.
NOAA officials have asserted that NWR can help to safeguard some people living
in coastal areas of the United States with early warning of an approaching tsunami,
possible coastal flooding from storm surges, and other hazardous marine conditions
such as rough waters or unusually high tides. They add that NWR can also serve to
notify coastal populations of tsunami false alarms, which may alleviate some
resulting panic and economic disruption. Many emergency management experts
believe that an expansive NAHWR network will materialize in the future; however,
existing structures in some localities to extend the range of existing NWR emergency
transmissions. The battery operated receiver is the critical component for receiving
emergency warnings. An audible alarm is generated and the device activated by a NWS
transmission of a severe weather warning. The instrument also generates a flashing light for
the hard of hearing. NWR receivers are made available to the public at a modest cost for
individuals, and at no cost to public schools applying for grant assistance. The NWS has
attempted to target rural areas so as many potentially affected communities as possible have
an opportunity to receive severe weather-related warnings or other emergency
communications from their nearest NWS Weather Service Office (WSO). Also, because of
significant advances in weather forecast technologies the lead time for emergency warnings
in most cases has increased giving people more time to take appropriate action.
National emergency management communications for the United States became the
responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in March 2003, when FEMA
was transferred to the newly established DHS.
See NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio (NWR) at [http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/].
Congress approved $156 million in §3010 of the Deficit Reduction Act of FY2005 (P.L.
109-171). (See H.Rept. 109-362, p. 204). The funding would “provide for an all hazards
alert system to [issue] alerts in response to natural disasters, man-made accidents, and terror
incidents.” Of that amount, $50,000,000 would be used to implement a tsunami warning and
coastal vulnerability program that would be funded by proceeds from a Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) spectrum auction. The measure passed Congress on
Feb. 6, 2006 (H.Rept. 109-366) and was signed by the President on February 8, 2006.
that depends on a number of factors which include available federal resources,
standardization of telecommunications (communication protocol), and system
interoperability among the various U.S. agencies responsible for disasters.
Cooperative Protection for the Pacific Basin. NOAA’s Director of the
NWS leads the UNESCO International Coordinating Group (ICG) for the
International Tsunami Warning System in the Pacific (ITSU). ITSU was created in
1968 and has operated out of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) until
recently when a separate international warning center for the Pacific was dedicated.
In October 2005, ICG/ITSU was renamed ICG/Pacific Tsunami Warning and
Mitigation System (ICG/PTWMS), a change made to align the new center with
tsunami warning and mitigation programs operated under UNESCO’s
Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and to distinguish it from the
U.S. PTWC. The PTWMS currently serves 28 member nations that are vulnerable
to tsunamis generated around the Pacific Basin. Three member states — Australia,
Thailand, and Indonesia (in part) — are unique in that they are also threatened by
tsunamis generated in the Indian Ocean.54 (For more information on U.S.
participation in international efforts to develop regional tsunami protection, see
Decisions about whether and how to proceed with establishing an international
tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean (and elsewhere) are considered
complicated for a number of reasons, which include the following:
the cross section and needs of different international users;
uniform standards required for communications and interoperability
of systems that collect and analyze data or receive or disseminate
financial resources needed for operations and maintenance to sustain
regional tsunami warning systems over the long-term; and
proprietary rights of some nations in the Indian Ocean and
elsewhere to charge for real-time access to satellite data that might
be critical for detection and tracking tsunamis or conducting postdisaster assessments.
Some Members of Congress have contended that the costs of acquiring those
data could be well worth it in terms of lives saved. Others have asserted that
licensing requirements and the costs of acquiring real-time proprietary data from
some international agencies could be prohibitive. Still others are of the opinion that
global environmental data should be accessible and available at the minimum cost
of reproduction, especially when countries like the United States have provided relief
to those affected by the December 2004 tsunami disaster, or are underwriting tsunami
See “International Tsunami Information Center: ITSU Master Plan,” the International
Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warming System in the Pacific (IGC/ITSU),
UNESCO/IG, at [http://www.tsunamiwave.info/].
detection and warning efforts for the Indian Ocean.55 Finally, concerns have been
raised about (inter)national security and compromise of intelligence-gathering
operations if “open” access to multinational data and telecommunications is availed.
Some U.S. lawmakers had questioned the risk of a tsunami hitting the U.S.
Atlantic coast.56 They argued that because the probability is low, the risk factor
should guide the scale of development and investment in a cooperative tsunami early
warning system for the U.S. eastern seaboard. NOAA scientists rebutted that notion,
asserting that the risks were real and could be disastrous for the U.S. Atlantic Basin.57
Since February 2005, the United States has taken important strides to define its
role and responsibilities for tsunami protection in the global context. It has supported
international efforts through the U.S. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Committee
(IOC) including financial resources and technological advice. It has also participated
in international planning for and development of a global tsunami warning network,
including the development of an international warning system for the Indian Ocean.
This work has proceeded along with the U.S. domestic effort. Recently, the United
States deployed the first of two second generation DART buoys (DART II) as a
contribution to an incipient but growing IOTWS network for the northeastern Indian
Ocean. That action demonstrated expanding involvement by the United States in
tsunami protection outside the Pacific Basin.
IOC members eagerly anticipate the launch of the Global Earth Observation
System of Systems (GEOSS), a U.S. initiative that is led by NOAA. Some countries
propose to “piggy back” on GEOSS as part of developing their own regional tsunami
early warning capabilities. The IOC indicates that in the future, short of financial
support, some countries may contribute in their own capacity through in-kind
services. One example presented by IOC included pledging national fleets to assist
in deploying, repairing, and decommissioning tsunami monitoring and detection
equipment. A second example called for lesser developed nations with fewer
resources to provide manpower to an international “corps” responsible for
maintenance-related activities necessary to sustain the long-term multinational effort
for tsunami protection. Such a model, IOC indicated, works not only for global
tsunami detection and warning systems but also would serve in building, operating,
and maintaining other observation networks of global scope (e.g., IGOOS). That
notwithstanding, NOAA officials are concerned that if GEOSS is not deployed, a
“truly global” tsunami warning system may never be realized.
International scientists and engineers considered the Bush Administration action
plan for a U.S. tsunami early warning network as a viable model for other regions of
the globe. Countries who have come to rely on the United States for their tsunami
Gregg Withee, Assistant Director for NOAA Satellite Data and Information Services,
January 5, 2005, House briefing.
USGS, Earthquake Hazards Program, “Off W Coast of Northern Sumatra, Can It Happen
in the United States?” at [http://earthquake.usgs.gov/eqinthenews/2004/usslav/canit.html].
University of Southern California, Viterbi, School of Engineering, Tsunami Research
Group [http://www.usc.edu/dept/tsunamis/caribbean/webpages/1918prindex.html] and
warnings have supported plans to expand and upgrade U.S. tsunami detection and
warning capabilities. Members of Congress who have backed the President’s plan
have introduced and acted on funding and legislation to implement actions necessary
for protection of U.S. mainland coastlines, those of Hawaii, and of the Far Pacific
trust territories. Initially, this included providing emergency and later regular
appropriations to procure the necessary equipment for an expanded U.S. tsunami
early detection and warning network.
The President’s plan suggested that nearly $30 million would be required for
FY2005-FY2006 to upgrade U.S. tsunami early warning capabilities. The 109th
Congress approved $25.4 million for that effort in H.R. 1268, the FY2005
Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act (P.L. 109-13), and in regular
appropriation for FY2006 (P.L. 109-108). The 109th Congress passed H.R. 1674
(enacted as P.L. 109-424) which, in addition to supporting efforts to strengthen the
U.S. Tsunami Early Warning Network, called for research initiatives to study U.S.
mitigation options and to enhance public education of the dangers of tsunamis. The
act also authorized U.S. involvement in supporting “in country” sociological needs
(i.e., in those nations affected by the December 2004 tsunami), to include educating
indigenous populations and visitors about tsunamis and adaptation strategies that can
complement detection and warning.
For FY2007, the President requested $12.5 million to complete procurement of
DART buoys for expansion and technology upgrades of the U.S. network. P.L. 1105 — the Revised Continuing Appropriation Resolution, 2007 — essentially funded
NWS tsunami-related activities at the FY2006 appropriation level. In FY2008 the
President has requested $20.4 million, including $1.8 million in new funding for
deploying the remaining DART buoys and for conducting network-associated
operations and maintenance. If Congress approves the FY2008 request, the federal
government will have committed about $40 million to improve tsunami early
warnings for the U.S. mainland, Hawaii, and territorial waters.
Finally, with the enactment of P.L. 109-424, the U.S. Tsunami Warning and
Education Act, $27 million would be authorized over the next five years to continue
upgrading and servicing the U.S. tsunami early warning network as well as
expanding social components of the NWS National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation
Program. (See Appendix A.) If funded at those levels, NOAA officials have stated
that there would be sufficient resources to finish deployment of DART buoys in U.S.
waters; strengthen the National Tsunami Warning and the National Tsunami
Mitigation Program; and expand partnerships between NOAA’s NWS, U.S. states,
and communities-at-risk through the TsunamiReady program. Others are more
optimistic and believe that funding could go a long way towards long-term
maintenance of the U.S. network and to help to cover costs of U.S. advice in
developing the IOTWS network. However, NWS officials have insisted that U.S.
contributions alone cannot ensure success or longevity of global operations.
Appendix A: Tsunami-Related Legislation
In the 108th Congress, even before the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, legislation
had been introduced to expand tsunami early warning networks globally.58 After the
Indian Ocean disaster, at the beginning of the 109th Congress in January 2005, no
fewer than 14 bills were introduced for similar purposes. Most of the post-disaster
legislation sought to expedite tsunami protection for the United States and its trust
territories. Some bills called for a more globally oriented approach for tsunami
protection to include populations outside of the United States. The bills that
supported U.S. involvement in a global effort encouraged U.S. representation at any
international negotiations that might define national roles and responsibilities for
operating and maintaining a global tsunami early warning network, adding that such
negotiations be conducted through established international diplomatic channels,
which were cited as the U.N. UNESCO IOC, the ISDR, and WMO.
In the 109th Congress, a number of provisions of various lawmakers’ legislation
were enacted indirectly rather than as stand alone legislation. Some proposals to
authorize programs were funded in emergency appropriations bills, such as P.L. 10913, or later in regular appropriations bills. For example, such funding bills had
directed the United States to incorporate tsunami preparedness and response, public
education and awareness, and risk adaptation in domestic disaster planning as part
of U.S. emergency management and recovery and advisory efforts abroad.
Similar to the Administration’s January 2005 proposal and the President’s July
2005 Action Plan, most of the legislation introduced had called for domestic needs
to be met before international commitments were made. As of December 2006, 20
out of a total 39 DART-II buoys had been deployed, with 19 of those operating in
U.S. waters. The United State has loaned two U.S. DART buoys for siting in
international waters in the Indian Ocean to protect indigenous populations.
Legislation in the 109th Congress
In the 109th Congress, S. 50 and H.R. 1674 addressed sociological needs in posttsunami disaster planning, and included safeguards for communities-at-risk on U.S.
coasts as well as those countries affected by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami disaster.
The House bill adopted many of the provisions of S. 50, but in some cases H.R. 1674
was more definitive about funding allocations for specific proposals of the legislation
(e.g., technology, research, and mitigation). Each proposed similar programs, but
what was expected of NOAA in terms of outcomes differed. The Senate, for
example, considered a longer time frame with respect to authorizing appropriations
to implement provisions of S. 50. However, both bills sought domestic action first
to protect the United States and its trust territories from future tsunami disasters
before commitments were made for international efforts.
S. 50 (Inouye). The Tsunami Preparedness Act of 2005 (S. 50) introduced by
Senator Inouye on January 24, 2005, directly supported the Bush Administration’s
Representative Curt Weldon sponsored an original bill, H.R. 5001, in the 108th Congress.
H.R. 1584 in the 109th Congress was a reintroduction of that measure. See footnote 38.
strategy for an expanded U.S. tsunami early warning system. Similarly, it proposed
that the United States and other nations act together to build a global detection and
warning capacity. In contrast to the President’s proposal however, S. 50 would have
required that U.S.-produced tsunami-related information and scientific research
findings be disseminated internationally, and that transfer of technology to assist in
global tsunami hazard mitigation efforts be facilitated by the United States. Toward
that end, S. 50 proposed a U.S. multi-agency task force to include NOAA, the
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the USGS, and the National
Science Foundation (NSF). NOAA would lead U.S. global tsunami warning efforts
as part of developing a multi-purpose, international earth observation system
(GEOSS). The bill also called for $35 million to be authorized for FY2006-FY2012.
The Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Disaster Preparedness held hearings
on S. 50, on February 2, 2005 (S.Hrg. 109-93). At the hearing, Ranking Member
Inouye, referring to potential tsunami disasters around the globe, noted that the
subcommittee could be effective in educating populations at risk. Inouye stated that
S.50 considered sociological needs associated with tsunami disasters in addition to
detection and warning, thus requiring NSF’s contribution. He also noted a proviso
that NOAA would be authorized to receive reimbursement of cash or services “inkind” from international agencies it assisted in the development of a global tsunami
early warning network.
On March 10, 2005, the full Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee
marked up S. 50, and ordered the measure reported with an amendment in the nature
of a substitute. Senator Stevens stated that if S. 50 were to be enacted, NOAA would
be required to notify Congress if a DART buoy malfunctioned so that arrangement
for a replacement could be made expeditiously. Also, $5 million was authorized
annually for an “integrated coastal vulnerability and adaption program.” On April
19, 2005, Senator Stevens, Chair of the Committee, issued a written report (S.Rept.
109-59). On July 1, S. 50, the Tsunami Preparedness Act (amended), was laid before
the Senate. S.Amdt. 1101 was offered on behalf of Senator Steven in the nature of
a substitute bill. The amended bill proposed to authorize funding for the
Administrator of NOAA to strengthen its tsunami detection, forecast, warning, and
mitigation program. It also would have authorized establishing an International
Tsunami Warning Center for the Pacific (ITWCP) to monitor tsunamis and issue
warnings for U.S. trust territories in the far Pacific, as well as ITWCP-associated
countries. Further, it proposed a clearinghouse for U.S. tsunami-related information
accessible to the IOC Tsunami Unit (ITSU) member states. As amended, the bill
passed the Senate by unanimous consent and was referred to the House. However,
there was no further legislative action on S. 50. Instead, the Senate acted on a related
bill. (See “H.R. 1674.”)
H.R. 1674 (Boehlert). Introduced on April 18, 2005, H.R. 1674, the United
States Tsunami Warning Education Act of 2005, directed the National Weather
Service to strengthen tsunami detection, forecasts, and warnings, and to increase
support for related disaster mitigation activities. H.R. 1674 provided for upgrade and
expansion of the U.S. tsunami warning network for the Pacific (to include U.S.
territories), the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. The bill
also addressed sociological issues related to tsunami disasters.
The measure was referred to the House Committee on Science Subcommittee
on Environment, Technology, and Standards which marked it up on April 20, 2005.
A full Science Committee markup was held on May 4, 2005. The bill was reported
by the House Science Committee on September 28, 2006 (H.Rept. 109-698), and
passed the House (amended) on December 6, 2006, by voice vote. The Senate passed
H.R. 1674 by unanimous consent on December 9, 2006. The President signed H.R.
1674 into law as P.L. 109-424 on December 20, 2006.
P.L. 109-424 strengthens the National Weather Services’s National Tsunami
Hazards Mitigation Program (NTHMP) by enhancing U.S. tsunami detection and
warning capabilities and incorporating tsunami awareness and preparedness in
disaster plans. It also confers on Congress the responsibility to oversee development
and operations of the U.S. network. Two reports to Congress are required. The
National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was directed to report on U.S. capacity for
tsunami protection and to recommend changes if needed. The Government
Accountability Office (GAO) was directed to report on U.S. operations through 2010.
P.L. 109-424 also encouraged cooperation between NOAA, the USGS, and the
NSF, in establishing an international tsunami research program. In addition, it would
(1) improve coordination for tsunami and other coastal hazards warnings at federal,
state, and international government levels; (2) educate for public preparedness; and
(3) aid in establishing a multinational regional tsunami warning network for countries
bounded on the Indian Ocean. The act also encourages mutual sharing of tsunamirelated data among countries that would become members of a “Global Tsunami and
Warning Mitigation Network.” Finally, it provides for developing educational and
outreach activities for U.S. populations-at-risk and a mechanism for advising other
countries on such matters. To carry out the act, $30 million was authorized annually
for FY2006 through FY2008, with 70% of spending allocated to upgrade operations
and management of the U.S. network, 20% for mitigation programs, and 10% for
international tsunami research.
Appendix B: U.S. Tsunami Warning
NOAA officials provided an original estimate of $30 million for implementing
the President’s January 2005 U.S. Tsunami Response and Protection plan. NWS had
suggested more modest funding to mount tsunami detection instrumentation on
existing Atlantic Ocean platforms, such as weather buoys. However, the President
decided that a number of DART platforms would be deployed instead (See Figure
2 for illustration of a DART buoy). NOAA had estimated that costs could vary
depending upon the scale of the project, for example, the number of DART buoys,
and supporting instruments that would be deployed and obligation for operation and
maintenance (O&M) in the out-years.59 Other related federal expenditures to boost
U.S. protection from tsunamis would have included funding for scientific research,
disaster mitigation grants, public outreach and education, and, at the time, partnering
with six U.S. states with communities-at-risk bordering on the Pacific Ocean though
the NWS TsunamiReady program. It was also determined that telecommunication
upgrades were needed for the USGS Global Seismic Network (GSN) upon which the
United States depends for earthquake detection and to determine the potential for
tsunamis. (See “Related and Contributing U.S. Programs.”)
Table 1 includes funding for U.S. tsunami-related programs since FY2001.
Prior to FY2004, all tsunami-related activities were funded by NOAA’s Office of
Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) and obligated out of NOAA’s Operations,
Research, and Facilities (ORF) account. In FY2004, NOAA’s National Weather
Service assumed responsibility for administering these activities. After the
December 2004 tsunami disaster, funds were obligated out of the NWS ORF and a
Procurement, Acquisition, and Construction (PAC) account, the latter used mainly
to procure capital intensive tsunami detection hardware and associated supporting
technologies. Congress has provided funding for U.S. tsunami monitoring and
detection operations, early warning capabilities, research, outreach and education,
and mitigation. Such appropriations have been found under Title II, Department of
Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Weather
Service in Science, Justice, and Commerce Appropriations Acts.
Thus far, President Bush has requested almost $40 million for FY2005-FY2008
to implement his July 2005 action plan (Table 1). (See also, “President Bush’s
Tsunami Action Plan.”) Upon release of the administration proposal in February
2005, the Director of OSTP, John Marburger, noted that protection from the U.S.
U.S. Congress, House Committee on Science, “Tsunamis: Is the U.S. Prepared?,” Hearing,
January 26, 2005, p.41, [Serial No. 109-1], prepared statement of Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.
“DART stations cost about $250,000 to purchase and around $125,000 per year to maintain.
Stations are now located off the coasts of Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and Chile, but we
need to consider how this system can be expanded to other parts of the world. Reliability
of the DART system needs to be understood as we consider its deployment worldwide.”
system would “ultimately include the Indian Ocean,” with respect to tsunami warning
Table 1. NOAA U.S. Tsunami Program Funding: FY2001-FY2008
Source: Funding data compiled by CRS from annual Commerce, Justice, State, Judiciary and Related
Agency annual appropriations reports, and NOAA’s FY2008 Budget Summary, February 5, 2007.
a. Funding for NOAA tsunami programs is not authorized by legislation. The last NOAA
authorization to fund NWS/NOAA Research programs occurred on October 29, 1992 in the
102nd Congress (P.L. 102-567).
b. The Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program is operated out of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center,
HI, and has been funded since FY2004 by NWS. A major portion of the funding for the
NTHMP is divided among each of five Pacific states (AK, HI, WA, OR, and CA). The
NTHMP administers the NOAA’s TsunamiReady program and provides assistance for
developing local warning capacity, emergency plans, and tsunami inundation maps.
John H. Marburger, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology
Policy, “Testimony,” Hearing, Feb. 2, 2005.
c. Prior to FY2004, the Tsunami Warning and Environmental (Observation Center), AK conducted
experimental tsunami warning system programs, but had no budget line. In FY2004, TWEAK
was transferred to NWS, along with all other U.S. tsunami-related programs. Funding has not
been requested by the Administration since; Congress has appropriated $2.0 million annually.
d. Funding proposed by the President and authorized by Congress in P.L. 109-13 was allocated as
SSJC appropriations for NOAA in FY2006.
e. Includes funding for PAC account to (1) procure DART buoys, (2) upgrade tsunami warning
communications network capabilities and (3) assist in developing a global telecommunications
infrastructure for tsunami warning. (A separate request of $8.1 million in P.L. 109-13 was for
USGS’s Global Seismic Network (GSN) to upgrade GSN telecommunications and an increase
in the number of seismic monitoring staff at the USGS National Earthquake information Center.)
f. For FY2007 P.L. 110-5, Revised Continuing Resolution on FY2007 Appropriations, funds most
NOAA programs at appropriation levels authorized for FY2006 whose funding was carried forth
to FY2007, resulting in a net increase of $0.0 for FY2007.
g. FY2006 appropriations include a rescission of 1.28% in P.L. 109-148 and P.L. 109-108, Div. B,
Title II-Department of Commerce,§638.
h. Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2005 (P.L. 109-13), first authorized funding to the
NOAA subactivity, “Strengthen U.S. Tsunami Warning Network,” after the December 24, 2004
tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean. Congress provided funding for the NWS Procurement,
Acquisition, and Construction (PAC) account from FY2005 emergency supplemental
appropriations. This funding was used to procure replacement DART buoys (only three out of
six were operating in the Pacific Ocean at the time of the tsunami disaster) and to expand the
U.S. tsunami warning network into the far Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and
the Caribbean Sea.
Other funding obligations include the U.S. contribution to international tsunami
warning efforts, including the IOTWS. NOAA officials assert that future U.S.
support for a “global” tsunami warning network will be facilitated through
development of the NOAA-led Global Earth Observing System of Systems (GEOSS)
whose implementation is being managed by the “US GEO” team.61 In addition, two
U.S. second generation deep-water tsunami detection buoys (DART II) are currently
on loan and are being sited in the Indian Ocean for tsunami warnings.
P.L 109-13, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for FY2005.
The first round of funding to upgrade and expand U.S. tsunami detection and
warning capabilities was authorized by P.L. 109-13,62 and was reported as H.Rept.
109-72, Div. A, which accompanied the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations
Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005. Congress
approved $17.3 million for FY2005-FY2006 for the NWS National Tsunami
Warning Program and $8.1 million was for related USGS activities. Of the NWS
total, $7.1 million was for coastal inundation mapping and to expand outreach and
preparedness programs for U.S. communities-at-risk as part of the TsunamiReady
Program under NOAA’s Operations, Research, and Facilities account. Congress also
directed that a portion of total NWS tsunami-related funding be provided to the West
The United States Group on Earth Observations (US GEO), Interagency Working Group
on Earth Observations is a standing subcommittee under the Committee on Environment and
Natural Resources, the United States Group on Earth Observations (US GEO).” See
U.S. Congress, House Committee on Appropriations, “Communication from the President
of the United States Transmitting a Request for Supplemental Appropriations ... Including
Tsunami Relief and Reconstruction,” H.Doc. 109-9, Feb. 15, 2005 (Washington, DC, GPO:
Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center (WC/AKTWC) to upgrade and expand
services. Congress authorized the NWS to hire an additional 43 full-time equivalents
at U.S. tsunami warning centers to monitor USGS seismic alerts and tsunami
detection instruments around the clock, so that tsunami warnings could be issued in
near real-time and false alarms retracted in a timely manner. Still other funding was
provided to develop an international warning center for the Pacific, in Hawaii, to
serve IOC ITSU members.
Further, Congress approved $10.2 million for NOAA’s PAC account to procure
32 new generation, DART II buoys for deployment in the Far Pacific and Atlantic
Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. The NWS indicated that their
deployment would add several new data points observations of ocean conditions and
sea-floor displacement at depth. (See “National Weather Service Tsunami
Programs.”) With respect to the U.S. GEOSS initiative, conferees also encouraged
NOAA “to develop buoys with capabilities beyond the single purpose of tsunami
Finally, Congress approved $8.1 million for the USGS National Earthquake
Information Center (NEIC) in Golden, CO, to upgrade the Global Seismic Network
(GSN) and to increase the number of GSN instruments capable of relaying real-time
seismic data. Funding was also included to hire additional staff for the NEIC to
interpret GSN data around the clock. At that time, only 80% of the 127 instruments
in the GSN had real-time telemetry capability. Conferees noted that GSN seismic
data are critical for NWS tsunami warning centers in making a determination whether
there is potential for a tsunami to be generated (tsunamigenesis) after an underwater
earthquake or other geological disturbance. In that respect, the WC/AKTWS has
responsibility for modeling the tracking and potential intensity of tsunamis and, in
turn, warn national and international emergency management officials.
House and Senate Appropriations Committees bill reports for FY2007 indicated
that lawmakers would have provided appropriations requested by President Bush
($20.4 million) to procure the remaining DART buoys needed to complete the U.S.
tsunami network and to deploy them. The Revised Continuing Appropriations
Resolution, 2007 (P.L. 110-5) funded NOAA at FY2006 appropriation levels and,
thus, authorized nothing new for FY2007 or beyond.
Accordingly, for FY2008, President Bush has requested $23.2 million to
procure and deploy the remaining buoys (including two spares) as well as to bring the
entire U.S. tsunami early detection and warning network online by the end of
calendar year 2007. Table 2 shows the Administration’s estimates to complete
implementation of the U.S. tsunami early warning network and associated tsunami
U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Appropriations, Departments of Commerce and
Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, 2006 ( S.Rept. 109-88 on H.R.
2862), p. 78, “Tsunami Preparedness, Warnings, and Forecasts,” June 23, 2005.
Table 2. Strengthening the U.S. Tsunami Warning Program:
Details of the President’s FY2008 Request
Deploy final 10 DART buoys
O&M for an expanded network of 29 buoys
DART operations & maintenance costs
DART ship-time costs
Emergency DART repair
Natl. Data Buoy Center, DART Program Management
Expanded “tsunami reporting” sea-level monitoring (O&M)
Alaska sea-level monitoring network
O&M expanded seismic networks for PTWC & WC/ATWC
State of Alaska seismic monitoring network
Maintain 24/7 operations at the PTWC & WC/ATWC
Maintain expanded International Tsunami Information Clearinghouse
Tsunami inundation forecast modeling of U.S. communities at risk
State of Alaska inundation mapping & modeling
Tsunami education/outreach activities (TsunamiReady)
State of Alaska community readiness programs
Research/modeling for effective warning and mitigation measures
Archive tsunami data at National Geophysical Data Center
Puerto Rico Seismic Network for Caribbean tsunami warnings
National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP)
Total Funding Requested
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA, Budget Estimates, Fiscal Year 2008: Congressional
Remaining authorized funding for U.S. tsunami protection programs is now in
the purview of the 110th Congress whose Commerce, Justice, Science and Related
Agencies Appropriation Subcommittees would review the President’s FY2008
request. The possibility exists that the 110th Congress may also hold oversight
hearings to consider progress in implementing provisions of P.L. 109-424, long-term
operations and maintenance of the U.S. network, and the U.S. role and
responsibilities in international efforts to establish the IOTWS network.