Washington, DC —Despite a proposed budget hike of more than $150 million, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is moving to curtail support for its critical ocean-based tsunami warning system and terminate funding for Alaska’s tsunami and seismic network and emergency public outreach for the West Coast and Alaska, among other activities, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). These precipitous budgetary moves by NOAA leave both state and federal officials puzzled and uncertain how vital public safety work will proceed.In a phone call this morning, Ruch stated that very few people have been told abut this, and the only person representing Alaska or the NOAA Center in Palmer at a recent briefing on the budget cuts, was Alaska's state seismologist.
These cuts were not mentioned in public briefings on the FY 2013 NOAA budget. Instead, they were disclosed in employee briefings and correspondence with state partners. The two main tsunami-related budgetary casualties are:
• NOAA’s Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) network of 39 stations covering the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. Currently, more than one in four (10 out of 39) of its DART stations are inoperative. The planned reduction in operations and maintenance will likely lead to even greater outages in the DART network, which according to NOAA, “serves as the cornerstone of the U.S. tsunami warning system”; and
• The Tsunami Warning and Environmental Observatory for Alaska (TWEAK) which maintains Alaska's seismic monitoring network for warnings about tsunami-generating earthquakes and measuring motion on the sea floor associated with these quakes, develops tsunami mapping and modeling for the evaluation of flooding at Alaska coastal communities and provides operational support for the NOAA Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, such as tide gauges and pressure sensors, as well as work on public education and community preparedness.
“Our tsunami warning system is one of the last things NOAA should contemplate cutting,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that these cuts were not mentioned in public briefings on the NOAA budget. “This is like a homeowner economizing by disconnecting the smoke alarm.”
In phone calls to Sen. Mark Begich's DC and Anchorage offices, staff were taken by surprise by the news, and will have more to say once they become fully informed on this and other proposed cuts. Begich Press Secretary Julie Hasquet thought it ironic that NOAA would brief employees and state partners somewhat quietly on this, and somehow expect the news to keep quiet.
Update: Here is Sen. Begich's statement:
I am reviewing the President's request for NOAA's 2013 funding now. As Chair of the Oceans Subcommittee I'll be convening a hearing in a few weeks to ask the Administration some tough questions about these proposed cuts. Alaskans count on NOAA's tsunami warning systems to keep our coastal communities safe. A recent National Academy of Sciences study identified tsunami buoy reliability as a key vulnerability in the system--so I'll be taking a close look at NOAA's proposal and working to ensure this critical warning system is not compromised by ill-advised budget cuts."
–U.S. Sen. Mark Begich