After seeing the devastation by the tsunami that hit the Pacific coast of eastern Japan on March 11, 2011, you would think that the US government would strengthen the tsunami warning systems to make sure the residents living in the coastal areas of the US (particularly on the Pacific Ocean) have good information.
But, ... no.
The Obama White House wants NOAA to cut the budget for the ocean buoys on the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans to save $4.6 million.
If President Obama and his family cut 2 vacation trips, that would just about fund the cut. Maybe one would be enough. Or stop hitting the golf course for a months or so.
From Santa Cruz Sentinel, quoting San Jose Mercury News (2/27/2012):
Less than a year after surging waves from a Japanese earthquake battered the California coast, causing $58 million in damage and wrecking the Santa Cruz and Crescent City harbors, the Obama administration is moving to reduce funding for the nation's tsunami warning and preparedness programs.
The White House's proposed 2013 budget would cut $4.6 million from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, for tsunami programs that were expanded after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed at least 230,000 people.
Among the proposed cuts: a reduction of $1 million for the United States' network of 39 high-tech buoys in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans. The buoys confirm if tsunamis are heading toward the U.S. and provide crucial details such as the height of the waves and when they'll hit land.
Some of the nation's top tsunami scientists say the proposed cuts are too risky.
"Given how little money it is, and the concerns about human life, this is a poor place to cut," said John Orcutt, a professor of geophysics at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla. "It's just like large earthquakes. The half-life of attention is measured in shorter and shorter periods of time. Our memory isn't very long."
The proposed budget also would cut by nearly half the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, a NOAA initiative that has helped California and other coastal states coordinate tsunami warning systems, educate the public on evacuation routes and generate detailed computer models showing which coastal towns are most threatened.
NOAA officials say the cuts aren't sacrificing public safety. For one, they say the buoy system will still operate, despite chances it will take longer for NOAA crews to repair broken buoys at sea. And the outreach programs already have created computer risk maps, paid for thousands of coastal warning signs and funded materials for schools and civic groups, said Susan Buchanan, a NOAA spokeswoman.
"People are more aware of tsunamis and better prepared to respond to them," she said. "The program was successful."
Orcutt said NOAA should trim from other areas, such as its satellite programs that are behind schedule.
Congress expanded the buoy program, first created in 1996, after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami from six buoys to 39. The buoys, which cost about $400,000 each, are tethered to the ocean floor. They measure water pressure changes and sea floor movement, and send instant details about tsunamis to satellites. The data is used by NOAA's tsunami warning centers in Honolulu and Alaska to fine tune tsunami alerts.
On March 11, following the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off Japan, the buoys helped provide precise predictions - to the centimeter - of the size of the waves, along with direction and arrival time on the West Coast.
Santa Cruz Port Director Lisa Ekers said that last March, the first alert from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center arrived eight hours before the tsunami. Though there was nothing harbor officials could do to prevent the sea surge and $17 million in damage, they were able to evacuate harbor residents.
"Between the initial warning and the arrival of the tsunami, I think I received about 30 text messages," Ekers said.
"The warning system is effective for those of us who have something you need to guard or protect," she added. "It does make a difference in your preparation."
And while she said the proposed cut is unfortunate, Ekers said it doesn't surprise her - only a small percentage of the country ever has to deal with tsunamis.
"Tsunami danger or tsunami potential only affects people living on the absolute coastline," Ekers said.
Today, 10 of the 39 buoys are inoperable, and that number could climb if $1 million is cut from the $11 million annual budget to operate the buoy system. NOAA says it will strive to keep no more than 11 out-of-service at any time.
Jane Hollingsworth, NOAA's tsunami program manager, said that because many of the buoys are in remote locations such as the South Pacific and rugged Alaskan coast, NOAA is looking to conserve resources by partnering with Australia, Russia and Japan to maintain and repair U.S. buoys.
She said seismic instruments first alert scientists to the risk of a tsunami.
"The initial warning is based on seismic data, which has nothing to do with these buoys," she said.
Yet, NOAA leaders have said the buoys, known as DART - for Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis - are vital.
"The DART network serves as the cornerstone to the U.S. tsunami warning system," NOAA said in a March 10, 2008, press release.
A 2009 research paper by NOAA scientists said the buoys are NOAA's "primary source" of information for tsunami warning and forecast because, unlike seismic data or computer models, the buoys provide direct measurement and confirmation of tsunami waves.
After the 2004 tsunami that devastated Indonesia and other countries, Congress passed a law in 2006 to increase funding for tsunami buoys, research and preparedness. But that funding, $40 million a year for seven years, runs out Oct. 1. Although some reports say Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, may be working to reauthorize the law, no new bill has been introduced.
In recent years, California received about $1 million a year of the outreach money. The money paid for computer models showing how far inland waves could go, emergency drills, 3,200 warning signs from San Diego to Oregon and other materials. If Congress approves the Obama proposal, it would reduce the outreach program's current national budget from about $10 million to $6 million.
But more drills, evacuation plans and computer maps are needed, said Jim Goltz, the earthquake and tsunami manager for the California Emergency Management Agency from 2007 until December.
"Preparedness and public education is perishable," Goltz said. "People need to be reminded. It's just like earthquakes."
Sentinel staff reporter Jason Hoppin contributed to this report.
Not that I have much sympathy for the Santa Cruz Port Director who did nothing with the tsunami information she got. She could have started calling the boat owners and warn them about the tsunami, and suggested they might want to get the boat out from the harbor before the tsunami hit. Instead, she did nothing for 8 hours until the tsunami actually started hitting the harbor, wrecking the expensive boats.
Thanks to the budget cut and outsourcing and volunteerism that "fit the lifestyle", some EPA's RadNet stations in California weren't functioning when the radioactive materials from the Fukushima nuclear accident started to reach the west coast of the United States.
If you don't know, you don't panic. You don't need to take responsibility either. "It was beyond our expectation" will be the refrain when a disaster strikes.