Proposed budget cuts could impact tsunami warning system

Gerard Fryer
Gerard Fryer
A NOAA buoy
A NOAA buoy

EWA BEACH (HawaiiNewsNow) - A geophysicist at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center confirmed that the proposed White House budget for 2013 would cut $4.6 million from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's tsunami programs.

$1 million would come from funds for 39 high-tech buoys in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The equipment measures the height of an approaching tsunami, allowing experts at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center to fine-tune their alerts.

"The quality of our warnings is going to be slightly degraded," said Gerard Fryer, a geophysicist at NOAA's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. "They're not going to turn anything off, but if something breaks it will be a little bit longer to get it fixed."

11 buoys aren't working right now. Rough weather often causes some of them to break. The ones that are critically important to Hawaii are the buoys along Alaska's Aleutian Islands.

"We can do a pretty darn good job without them except that we are worried about the Aleutians," said Fryer. "There's nothing between the Aleutians and us, so we don't have any intermediate information about what what's going on."

The proposed cut also affects the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program which funds inundation and evacuation maps, along with training and education efforts.

"Losing that is a bit of a concern because if the public doesn't know what to do when there's a warning or if they have misconceptions about what a tsunami is, then they're like to do the wrong thing," explained Fryer.

Fryer also said the loss in funding would mean a delay in addressing a potential problem uncovered last year.

"The Japan earthquake told us that a lot of what we understand about how earthquakes work is wrong. The motion on the fault that occurred in the Japan earthquake was more than twice as large as anything anybody had expected," said Fryer. "Do we now have to go back and look at all of our evacuation maps and make sure that they're right? That's a question that's still unanswered and that question would be answered with Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program funds."

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