Tsunami Detection and Warnings for the United States
Tsunami Detection and Warnings
for the United States
Updated September 25, 2008
Wayne A. Morrissey
Information Research Specialist
Knowledge Services Group
Tsunami Detection and Warnings for the United States
Congress raised concerns about the possible vulnerability of U.S. coastal areas
to tsunamis, and the adequacy of early warning for coastal areas, after a strong
underwater earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, on December 26,
2004. The earthquake generated a tsunami that devastated many coastal communities
around the northern Indian Ocean, and may have cost around 170,000 known deaths
and 100,000 still missing and generated $186 million in damages. Officials
determined then that no tsunami early warning systems operated in the Indian Ocean.
In December 2005, President Bush released an action plan for expanding the
U.S. tsunami detection and early warning network, which was expected to cost
millions of dollars and would include building the infrastructure and maintaining its
operations. Some Members of Congress argued that the benefits would far outweigh
the costs; other Members questioned the probability of tsunamis outside the Pacific
Basin. Long before the tsunami disaster, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce envisioned “piggy
backing” tsunami detection and warning instrumentation on existing marine buoys,
tide gauges, and other ocean observation and monitoring systems. However, NOAA
was also experimenting with a new deep water tsunami detection technology.
Congress approved emergency funding in FY2005 for the President’s action
plan for procuring and deploying a comprehensive U.S. tsunami early detection and
warning system. This meant expanding an existing six deep ocean tsunami detection
buoys into a network of 39, which would be sited in the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean
Basins, including the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and the Far Pacific Ocean to
monitor U.S. trust territories at risk.
Proponents of the NOAA program also called for funding authorization to
address long-term needs of the U.S. network, such as maintenance, and to support
social programs aimed at disaster preparedness and adaptation to risk. Emergency
experts stressed the need for education of indigenous people and visitors about the
potential dangers of tsunamis in an area; adaptation to potential risks, such as
constructing public shelters; periodic evacuation drills; and informed land-use
planning. Many also asserted that local officials need to be empowered to rapidly
alert populations of an evacuation and to take appropriate safety precautions, even
if that entailed using low-tech, high impact solutions such as sirens.
With respect to tsunami disaster warnings for the United States, discussions
ensued between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and NOAA about
developing a multi-hazard warning and response system and, perhaps, eventually
contributing to a global tsunami early warning system. Experts acknowledge that
formidable challenges lay ahead in adopting standardized communications protocols
and ensuring the interoperability, scope, and purpose of the diverse emergency
warning alert systems used by the United States and other countries.
This report will be updated as events warrant.
In troduction ......................................................1
The Bush Administration and Tsunami Protection........................2
U.S. “Tsunami Protection” Systems...................................4
National Weather Service (NWS) Tsunami Programs.................4
Deep-Water Tsunami Detection Operations.....................5
The Tsunami Warning Centers...............................6
Other NOAA Supporting Technologies.........................7
The National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program...............8
Contributing Programs for U.S. Tsunami Protection...................8
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)...........................9
Cooperative Protection for the Pacific Basin....................10
World Weather Watch.....................................11
National All Hazards Weather Radio (NAHWR)................12
List of Figures
Figure 1. U.S. Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis
(DART™) Buoy Network.......................................3
Figure 2. NOAA DART Platform.....................................6
Tsunami Detection and Warnings for the
On December 26, 2004, a powerful submarine earthquake struck near Sumatra,
Indonesia, and an ensuing tsunami devastated communities around the northern rim
of the Indian Ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
(NOAA) reported that an estimated 170,000 people lost their lives.1 After the dual
disaster, some Members of Congress were soon on record as supporting an
international effort to build a regional tsunami detection and warning network for the
Indian Ocean where no such system existed prior to the disaster. Some lawmakers
called for establishing an expanded tsunami detection and warning network to2
monitor the U.S. Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea. They
noted that although the risks may be small, the consequences of a tsunami for the3
U.S. Atlantic Coast justified such expenditures.
To apprise Congress of the probabilities and potential risk for a tsunami striking
the east coast of the United States, the House Congressional Coastal Caucus and the4
House Oceans Caucus sponsored a briefing in January 2005 on Capitol Hill. At the
briefing, scientists from the NOAA at the Department of Commerce and the U.S.
Geological Survey (USGS) at the Department of the Interior discussed the risk
factors. Speakers alluded to the Puerto Rican Trench, the deepest point in the
western Atlantic Ocean, where massive submarine landslides have historically
1 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, personal communication September
18, 2008. NOAA officials stated that there were 170,000 confirmed deaths, 100,000
individuals remained missing, and $186 million in damages we incurred to buildings, piers,
ferry terminals, and boat harbors.
2 Rep. Frank Pallone (Remarks on H.Res. 12), Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 151,
no. 1, January 4, 2005, p. 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 Atlantic Ocean and throughout the world.”
3 Rep. Vernon Elders, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 151, no. 1, January 4, 2005,
p. H66. “And the likelihood of it is small, but if it occurs, the probability of major damage
is so high that we should not just concentrate on the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, but
we should also worry about the Atlantic Ocean and our eastern seaboard.”
4 Presenters at the January 5, 2005 House Caucuses’ “Briefing on the Indian Ocean
Tsunami,” included David Applegate, Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geological
Hazards at the USGS; Brig. General David Johnson, USAF (Ret.) 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).
occurred along the face of the North American continental shelf.5 Also, they noted
that strong earthquakes have occurred on the ocean floor off the coast of Puerto Rico,
and that some of them generated tsunamis that caused major loss of life and property
damages in both the Atlantic and Caribbean Basins.6 Another geographic area of
concern for the United States that was discussed is the Pacific Northwest Cascadia
[seismic] Zone. Based on historical seismic activity, many geologists are convinced
that there is a potential for a large earthquake that could generate tsunamis and
devastate the U.S. Pacific Coast and other settlements around and in the greater
Pacific Ocean Basin.7 This admonition was based on empirical evidence of a large
tsunami that was generated in the area around 1700 and affected lands as far away
The Bush Administration and Tsunami Protection
On January 14, 2005, shortly after the tragedy in the Indian Ocean, the White
House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) proposed an improved
tsunami warning and detection system for the United States.
According to the OSTP, with input from NOAA, the President originally
proposed 32 dedicated Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART)
buoys to be deployed by mid-2007. His stated goal was to improve tsunami detection
for the Far Pacific Trust Territories, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the9
Caribbean Sea. (See discussion under Deep-Water Tsunami Detection Operations
below). Currently, 39 DART buoys make up the U.S. tsunami early warning network
operated and maintained by NOAA’s National Data Buoy Service (Figure 1).10
5 USGS, Woods Hole Science Center, “Caribbean Tsunami and Earthquake Hazards Studies
Program,” available at [http://woodshole.er.usgs.gov/projects/project_get.php?proj=
6 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].
7 Eddie Bernard, Associate Director for NOAA of the Pacific Marine Environmental Lab
(PMEL), teleconferencing with the House Briefing, January 5, 2005. (Hereafter cited as
Eddie Bernard, House briefing, January 5, 2005.)
8 Brian Atwater et. al., the Orphan Tsunami of 1700: Japanese Clues to a Parent
Earthquake in North America (University of Washington Press, Seattle, 2005), reviewed,
Oregon Historical Quarterly, vol. 108, no. 2, 2007 (online), available at
[http://www.historycooperative.org/ j ournals/ohq/108.2/br_9.html ].
9 U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy, “U.S. Announces Plan for Improved
Tsunami Detection and Warning System,” press release, OSTP News, January 14, 2005,
available at [http://www.ostp.gov/html/Tsunamiplanrelease.pdf].
10 NOAA, “NOAA Launches Final Two Buoys to Complete U.S. Tsunami Warning
System,” March 10, 2008, at [http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2008/
Figure 1. U.S. Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis
(DART™) Buoy Network
Source: NOAA, National Weather Service, National Data Buoy Center, Deep-ocean Assessment and
Reporting of Tsunamis (DART™), available at [http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/dart/DART_planned.gif].
Although generally supportive of President Bush’s plan, concerned social
scientists asserted that in addition to deploying the necessary detection and warning
technology, there was a need for “institutionalizing” a public education component
as part of whatever legislation might be enacted to implement U.S. and international
tsunami protection measures.11 The public education initiative they envisioned
included training local authorities to be (1) resident developers and deliverers of
disaster education, (2) emergency planners for tsunamis, and (3) disseminators of
emergency tsunami warnings.
Further, federal, state, and local governments and private entities would be
encouraged to share resources and, where possible, a visible federal agency-presence
11 Testimony of Eileen Shea, Project Coordinator, East West Center, Honolulu, HI, in U.S.
Congress, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Tsunamithst
Preparedness Act of 2005, hearing, 109 Cong., 1 sess, February 2, 2005, S.Hrg. 109-93.
(Hereafter cited as Eileen Shea, February 2, 2005.)
would be maintained in the community.12 They also promoted adaptation to risks,
such as constructing emergency sheltering to live with tsunamis, and to avail
communities of low-tech, high-impact solutions for ordering public evacuations.
Many social scientists also advocated adopting community “resiliency” as part of
emergency preparedness and disaster management plans, which is the ability of the
community to restore economic normalcy and citizen well-being as soon as possible
after a tsunami disaster.13
U.S. “Tsunami Protection” Systems
Even prior to the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, at least one U.S. Atlantic Coast
state, New Hampshire, had a contingency plan for tsunami emergencies. New
Hampshire's state government also maintains a clearinghouse of information about
historical tsunami disasters that have affected the northeast United States.14 In 2005,
the U.S. community of Indian Harbor Beach on the Atlantic Coast of Florida received
notoriety for becoming the first NOAA National Weather Service (NWS)
TsunamiReady location that was not situated on the Pacific Coast. The city of
Norfolk, VA, on the mid-Atlantic Coast, was the second TsunamiReady15
community. Since then, additional communities in the eastern United States and
Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, have gained that distinction. In contrast, some communities-
at-risk, along the U.S. Pacific Coast and the states of Alaska and Hawaii, have had
tsunami warning systems and emergency evacuation plans as far back as 60 years.
National Weather Service (NWS) Tsunami Programs
The NWS National Tsunami Warning Program (NTWP) consists of two U.S.
tsunami warning centers that acquire, process, and interpret seismic and sea level
data, forecast tsunami characteristics, and disseminate information to coastal
emergency management and residents. An associated program, the National Tsunami
Hazards Mitigation Program (NTHMP), originally supported tsunami and warning
guidance, pre-event planning, and mitigation activities, though recently, it has shifted
its focus to pre-event planning, mitigation, and public education. The NTHMP
provides citizen education and outreach through NOAA’s TsunamiReady program.
12 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
13 Eileen Shea, February 2, 2005.
14 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?,” available at [http://tsunami.gov].
15 See NOAA, National Weather Service, “TsunamiReady Communities,” available at
[http://www.tsunami ready.noaa.gov/ts-communities.htm] .
It also assists states in emergency disaster planning and develops maps of potential
coastal innundation for a tsunami of a given intensity. In addition to the two
programs, NWS has played an integral role in international tsunami protection by
temporarily siting two relocatable U.S. second-generation DART buoys in the
international waters of the Indian Ocean for detection and early warning.
For the eastern United States, opportunities to include regional and local coastal
and ocean observation networks for tsunami protections had been considered. Before
the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there was a functioning tsunami detection
and warning system and communications network operated by the University of
Puerto Rico, Mayaguez. This system already monitored parts of the Gulf of Mexico,
the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic coast of the Greater Antilles. It was through
expansion of this network that NOAA enhanced coverage for tsunami detection and
warning for the U.S. East Coast.
In April 2006, seven DART buoys were deployed in the Atlantic Ocean to
include protection for the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico as part of the
Atlantic Basin early warning network (see Figure 1).16 These now complement 32
DART buoys operating in the Pacific Ocean, including the six that were previously
deployed, three of which were situated off the Alaskan Peninsula. Another DART
buoy was independently commissioned by the Chilean government to protect its
coastlines. Two relocatable U.S. second-generation DART buoys were sited
temporarily in international waters off the coast of Indonesia to monitor it and
neighboring nations Indian Ocean coasts until two permanent internationally
sponsored DART-type buoys were sited there.
Deep-Water Tsunami Detection Operations. NOAA currently operates
an expansive network of 39 DART buoys (Figure 1 locations and Figure 2 DART
technology). All but six of these buoys were procured since 2006 with technology17
enhancements (i.e., two-way communication).
16 Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Administrator of NOAA and Under Secretary of
Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, NOAA FY07 Budget Briefing, National Press Club,
Washington, DC, February 9, 2006. (Hereafter cited as Vice Admiral Conrad C.
Lautenbacher, February 9, 2006.)
17 Hugh B. Milburn et al., “Real-Time Tsunami Measuring, Monitoring and Reporting
System: The NOAA DART II Description and Disclosure,” NOAA Pacific Marine
Environmental Laboratory (1996), available at [http://nctr.pmel.noaa.gov/Dart/Pdf/
DART_II_Description_6_4_05.pdf]. A seventh DART buoy owned and operated by the
Chilean government is deployed off Chile’s coast in South America.
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
[ h t t p : / / www. n o a a n e ws . n o a a . g o v / s t o r i e s 2005/s2369.htm].
The Tsunami Warning Centers. The NOAA NWS West Coast/Alaska
Tsunami Warning Center (WC/ATWC) operates at Palmer, AK. It was established
in 1967 after a devastating earthquake of Mw9.2 struck Anchorage in 1964, causing
major localized tsunami damages.18 The WC/ATWC Area of Responsibility (AOR)
is Canada, Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands, and all U.S. coastal states except Hawaii.
Since 2006, the WC/ATWC expanded coverage serving as the warning center for
U.S. populations located in western Atlantic Ocean areas. (Figure 1).
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center (PTWC) operates from Ewa Beach, HI.
Its AOR is all areas of the Pacific outside the WC/ATWC AOR, the Indian Ocean,
and the wider Caribbean. The PTWC was established in 1949 after a strong
18 See NOAA, NWS, “How TsunamiReady Helps Communities and Counties at Risk,”
available at [http://www.stormready.noaa.gov/tsunamiready/].
earthquake and massive landslides off the coast of southwest Alaska caused a
disastrous tsunami for the Hawaiian Islands only hours later.
Other NOAA Supporting Technologies. As early as the 108th Congress,
legislation was introduced to adapt technologies that might contribute to part of an
enhanced U.S. tsunami detection and warning network.19 It was suggested that
because NWS operated hundreds of marine weather buoys, and NOAA’s National
Ocean Service (NOS) operated water level tide-gauges off all coasts of the United
States and in the Great Lakes, these instrumented platforms might figure early in
NOAA’s plans for an expanded U.S. tsunami warning network. (This was prior to
the transfer of DART buoy technology from research to operations.) An additional
benefit, NOAA officials noted, were systems comparable to both NWS weather
buoys and NOS sea-level monitoring gauges operating off the coasts of other
countries around the world, which might one day comprise a regional, or even global,20
tsunami early warning network.
NWS weather buoys record meteorological data, such as temperature, wind
speed and direction, and atmospheric pressure. Other NOAA marine “drifting” data
buoys measure speed of ocean currents and changes in salinity (or density) of the
ocean. NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have
operational satellite programs which measure sea surface height in conjunction with
the satellite-based GPS (global positioning system). NOAA’s National Ocean
Service (NOS) tidal-monitoring networks relay data via NOAA environmental
satellites for scientific data collection and analysis. Tide-gauge networks have been
important because they can detect tidal surges or other ocean disturbances that may
be indicative of tsunamigenesis.21 These networks and weather buoys are equipped
for electronic communications and the capacity to transmit NOAA weather forecast
via facsimiles, which serve commercial and recreational navigation.22
In addition to weather and marine navigational buoys, there is currently an array23
of about 3,000 NOAA Argo floats that is used for monitoring short-term climate
changes in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Because of where they are sited, they can
19 On January 5, 2005, Rep. Curt Weldon circulated a “Dear Colleague” letter advocating
the reintroduction of H.R. 5001 (108th Congress), the Ocean and Coastal Observationth
System Act, in the 109 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:
20 Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, February 9, 2006.
21 A technical term used by geologists and oceanographers for the development of a tsunami.
22 Eddie Bernard, House briefing, January 5, 2005.
23 NOAA/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Observing the Ocean in Real-Time: Argo,
a Global Array of Profiling Floats to Understand and Forecast Climate, ed. Stan Wilson
detect variable ocean conditions that are associated with El Niños and La Niñas,24 or
longer periodic adjustments to climate variability that may affect global weather, and
can also monitor for real-time changes. The Administrator of NOAA has advocated
the use of Argo floats as “the next step in global observations,” both for monitoring
the global ocean and creating the backbone of a future global tsunami detection and
The National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program. In 1992, NOAA
launched the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP) to address the
credibility of the PTWS (System) with respect to issuing tsunami warnings. At that
time, there had been a 75% false alarm rate for tsunamis. Local Hawaiian officials
became concerned about the significant social upheaval and economic disruption that
were being caused by false alarms. They also had concerns whether the public would
heed future tsunami warnings. With technological progress and iterative
improvements, the error rate for false alarms has decreased significantly since then.
Another major NTHMP research effort considers the potential for a sizable
earthquake in the Pacific Northwest Cascadia Region, where USGS scientists believe
a tsunami could be generated and severely damage several U.S. Pacific coastal
communities.26 The NTHMP worked initially with five Pacific states — Alaska,
Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, and California — and now works with 28 U.S. coastal
states, territories, and commonwealths. Currently, NOAA assists more than 50
“communities-at-risk” in developing local tsunami emergency plans, including
citizen education-in-disaster preparedness and response, as part of the NWS27
Over time, the NTHMP has developed tsunami dispersion models that can
project trajectory, based on sea-floor morphology, and potential damage expected,
based on the energy intensity of ensuing waves. Finally, the NTHMP helps to
produce maps of potential inundation from tsunamis for coastal communities, on
behalf of TsunamiReady-member states.
Contributing Programs for U.S. Tsunami Protection
In response to the Indian Ocean tsunami, for FY2007, the U.S. Geological
Survey (USGS) received emergency supplemental appropriations of $13 million to
improve globally its earthquake-monitoring capabilities.28 The USGS scientists
24 Intra-decadal climate variability that may last 3-5 years. In addition to a normal climate
phase, these two other phases affect ocean circulation in the Pacific Ocean to produce very
different global weather patterns.
25 Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, February 9, 2006.
26 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].
27 NOAA, National Weather Service, “TsunamiReady,” available at
[http://www.stormr eady.noaa.gov/tsunami ready/ts-communities.htm] .
28 Dr. Charles Groat, director of the USGS, presentation on the USGS FY2006 budget held
began upgrading the Global Seismic Network (GSN) and its seismic monitoring
stations that did not have real-time data communication abilities. USGS also
increased staff hours to cover seismic alerts that are received by its National
Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) in Golden, CO. The NEIC advises national
and regional emergency managers as well as NOAA’s tsunami warning centers about
the potential for a disaster caused by an earthquake of a given magnitude, and
whether a tsunami could develop. Today, alternatives for broadcasting tsunami
warnings locally include radios, cellular phone networks, and the Internet and can be
used for reaching government officials in rural or isolated populations. Some argue
that bullhorns, sirens, and flares can also be as effective to evacuate populations in
advance of a tsunami.29 International telecommunications networks, such as the
Global Telecommunications System (GTS), that operate under common data
transmission protocols, provide a line of emergency communications among
worldwide leaders and government institutions, such as international weather
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). USGS contributes directly to the
U.S. National Tsunami Warning Program through the Global Seismic Network
(GSN) and Advanced National Seismic System (ANSS). The GSN has proved
critical for identifying the potential of and issuing early warning for tsunamis. The
USGS currently operates a network of 127 global seismic monitoring stations on the
GSN, including some situated in the Indian Ocean. This network is managed by the
Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), a consortium of academic
institutions involved with earthquake monitoring, detection, and modeling.31
Although USGS does not monitor for tsunamigenesis, the GSN does measure the
strength and energy of land-based and submarine earthquakes around the globe in
real-time. Depending on where they may occur, and their magnitude, the NWS
TWCs make determinations of a possible onset of a tsunami.
During the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean, USGS officials indicated that32
only about 80% of GSN instruments had capability for real-time data telemetry.
Accordingly, President Bush requested funding to upgrade the entire GSN network
and, in 2005, Congress approved emergency supplemental appropriations for that
purpose. The USGS planned to increase the number of seismic monitoring stations
at the Department of the Interior, Washington, DC, February 7, 2005. Congress
appropriated $8.1 million in emergency supplemental appropriations for FY2005 in P.L.
29 Eileen Shea, February 2, 2005.
30 Kenneth B. Allen, director of the Partnership for Public Warning, “Letter to President
Bush,” January 3, 2005, at [http://www.partnershipforpublicwarning.org/ppw/]. See also,
Joab Jackson, “Cisco, IBM Propose Internet-Based Disaster Alert System,” Government
Computer News, February 11, 2005, at [http://www.gcn.com].
31 Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), “Global Seismic Network
(GSN) at [http://www.iris.edu/about/GSN/].
32 Dr. Charles Groat, February 7, 2005.
around the globe.33 Some of the funding was also used to augment the number of
staff hours of coverage at the National Earthquake Information Center (NEIC) in
Golden, CO. Conferees on the emergency funding bill noted that the resources
appropriated for GSN communication improvements might enable USGS and NWS
to exchange seismic data and other information necessary for tsunami modeling
exercises more rapidly.34
USGS researchers have also played a part in the betterment of scientific
understanding of tsunamis. They collect and analyze data on crustal deformation and
ocean floor displacement and are experts at determining which events may be
precursors to earthquakes and which of those may generate tsunamis. USGS
electronic topographical mapping data, and the Digital Elevation Model (DEM), has
assisted NOAA scientists in developing spatially accurate tsunami inundation maps
for communities-at-risk. These maps have assisted emergency managers in
developing tsunami evacuation plans and for guiding land-use decisions of local
government planners and private developers over the long-term.
Because the USGS also monitors seismic activity on land, many geologists
assert that detection of land-based seismic activity can be as important as DART
buoy technology in the sea when it comes to determining whether a tsunami may
develop.35 Historically, in certain coastal areas of the United States, and particularly
along the Pacific Coast, land-based earthquakes have generated massive landslides
that have entered the ocean or other bodies of water abruptly, displacing large
volumes of water locally. As mentioned previously, landslides that occur beneath the
ocean may also generate tsunamis. USGS vulcanologists have investigated the
vulnerability of the U.S. Atlantic Coast to a “super tsunami” which some believe
could be caused by the collapse of a volcano near the Canary Islands off the coast of
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 this system is still operated out of the PTWC, which also issues products
to ITSU’s 26 member nations. In October 2005, ICG/ITSU was renamed the
ICG/Pacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation System (ICG/PTWMS). This change
33 Dr. Charles Groat, director of the USGS, presentation on USGS FY2007 budget held at
the Department of the Interior, Washington, DC, February 6, 2006.
34 P.L. 109-13, Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War
on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005 (H.Rept. 109-72).
35 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].
36 Rossella Lorenzi, “Top World Tsunami Hotspots Detailed,” Discovery News (online),
January 11, 2005, at [http://dsc.discovery.com/news/briefs/20050110/tsunamidanger.html].
“According to Simon Day, Benfield Greig Hazard Research Center at University College
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.”
aligned ITSU with tsunami warning and mitigation programs established by
UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), and to distinguish
it from the PTWC. The ICG/PTWMS currently serves 28 member nations that are
vulnerable to tsunamis generated around the Pacific Basin. Among these, three
member states, Australia, Thailand, and Indonesia (in part), are unique in that they
are also threatened by those generated in the Indian Ocean.37
World Weather Watch. In terms of disaster warnings, NOAA and other
international weather agencies issue warnings almost daily of severe meteorological
conditions that can affect commercial air traffic and marine navigation. Weather-
related disasters have put human lives and property in danger and have caused
significant economic disruption over large geographic regions, notwithstanding
international borders. The U.N. World Weather Watch (WWW) is an international
cooperative program for weather forecasting and warning which was 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 may be situated around
the globe, are adequately warned of the possibility of severe weather or dangerous
ocean-related conditions.38 NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) disseminates
meteorological forecasts and warnings internationally on behalf of the United States
as part of the WWW mission.
The NWS maintains a leadership role in the WWW, with respect to weather and
other environmental data collection, management, and archives. The Department of
State works with NOAA in negotiations on behalf of the United States to forge and
sustain international agreements for effective WWW operations globally. WWW
parties communicate through established channels of telecommunications using
common protocols such as the GTS to receive and disseminate weather data,
forecasts, and warnings.39 NOAA’s National Environmental Satellite and
Environmental Data and Information Service (NESDIS) houses two of three adjunct
World Weather Program (WWP)40 data centers, the third is managed by the Russian
government. The WWP centers archive and make available weather and other
environmental data for scientific analysis. These telecommunication-enabled portals
37 See “International Tsunami Information Center: ITSU Master Plan,” the International
Coordination Group for the Tsunami Warming System in the Pacific (ICG/ITSU),
UNESCO/ICG, at [http://www.tsunamiwave.info/].
38 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: October 2004). Examples of international communications networks are included.
40 NOAA, National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service (NESDIS),
“About the World Data Center System.” NESDIS operates two U.S. WWP data centers and
performs analysis on and archives weather satellite data for international use. This resource
has since provided valuable information about the Indian Ocean tsunami. See the NESDIS
website at [http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/wdc/wdcmain.html]. See also “NOAA Scientists
Able to Measure Tsunami Height from Space,” at [http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/
facilitate exchange of data and scientific research findings around the globe.41
NOAA officials consider the international reach of the WWW important for
communicating tsunami warnings among WWP member governments and scientific
institutions. The NESDIS data centers, they say, are important as a tool for providing
access to research data on environmental factors that may predispose a region to
weather and ocean-related disasters, such as tsunamis.
National All Hazards Weather Radio (NAHWR). National emergency
communications management for the United States became the responsibility of the
Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when FEMA was subsumed under the42
newly created agency in March 2003. Operations of the NOAA Weather Radio
(NWR) predate establishment of the DHS, and NWR has been used to warn
individuals at home and in public institutions, such as schools and hospitals, of the
potential for severe weather and when to take appropriate action. In 2003, DHS
initiated discussions with NWS to collaborate in modifying the NWR to enable
public warnings of all types of disasters — natural or otherwise. Out of these
discussions came a proposal for a National All Hazards Weather Radio Network
(NAHWR) that would broadcast disaster warnings and information and subsume the43
NWR communications spectrum as part of the U.S. Public Alert Network.
Over time, Congress has expanded the NWR’s reach through construction of
additional signal transmission towers and by adding repeaters to the network in more
locations. Repeaters can be mounted on public structures to extend the range and
reception of NWR emergency transmissions. The NWR receiver is an important
component for receiving emergency warnings. This device has been made available
to the public at a modest cost to individuals and, in most cases, at no cost to public
schools seeking grant assistance. The NWR program has especially targeted rural
areas to ensure that as many as possible at risk can receive severe weather-related
warnings. Advances in weather forecast technologies and expansion of the NWR
network have enabled increased lead-time for emergency warnings, including
With the advent of the NAHWR, eventually other emergency communications
would also be dispatched from their nearest NWS Weather Forecast Office (WFO).
The DHS is vested in NAHWR as a means in the future to disseminate warnings for
earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods, and other natural disasters, as well as
terrorist or accidental industrial-related disasters. This project has been funded at
around $11 million annually. Proponents of fully deploying the network assert that
41 The National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) of NESDIS maintains NOAA’s and the
U.N. International Oceanographic Committee (IOC)’s long-term archive for global tsunami
event, inundation, and damage data. 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.” They also note that “The GEO (Global Earth
Observation) Workplan for 2006 identifies the WDCs as one of the archives for data
collected over coastal regions subject to tsunami risk.” See [http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/
42 P.L. 107-296, Homeland Security Act of 2002.
43 NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio (NWR), at [http://www.nws.noaa.gov/nwr/].
at least $150 million would be required to develop a broadband network capable of
integrating different federal agencies’ emergency communications systems.
Because of its experience with NWR, NOAA officials believe that it is the
logical choice for safeguarding populations living in coastal areas of the United
States. They are confident that NWR can provide early warnings for an approaching
tsunami, possible coastal flooding from storm surges, or hazardous marine
conditions, including obstacles such as ice jams and debris in waterways for marine
navigators. Further, NOAA officials have suggested that the real power of the NWR
is a capability to expediently notify coastal populations of false alarms, which might
help to alleviate ensuing panic and possible economic disruption.
ANSSAdvanced National Seismic System (USGS)
DARTDeep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis
DEMDigital Elevation Model (USGS)
DHSDepartment of Homeland Security
DOCDepartment of Commerce
DOIDepartment of the Interior
DOSDepartment of State
FCMSSRFederal Coordinating Committee for Meteorological Services
and Supporting Research (NOAA/U.S. Interagency)
FEMAFederal Emergency Management Agency (Directorate-DHS)
GAOGovernment Accountability Office
GEOGlobal Earth Observation (Group — NOAA/U.S. Interagency)
GPSGlobal Positioning Satellite (Network)
GSNGlobal Seismic Network (USGS)
GTSGlobal Telecommunications System
ICG/ITSUThe International Coordination Group for the
Intergovernmental Tsunami System in the Pacific (ICG/ITSU)
IOCIntergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (U.N.)
IOOSIntergovernmental Ocean Observing System (U.N.)
IOTWCIndian Ocean Tsunami Warming Center (U.N./NOAA)
IRISIncorporated Research Institutions for Seismology
NAHWRNational All Hazard Warning Network (DHS/NOAA)
NGDCNational Geophysical Data Center (NESDIS/NOAA)
NDBCNational Data Buoy Center (NWS/NOAA)
NEICNational Earthquake Information Center (USGS, Golden, CO)
NESDISNational Environmental Data and Information Service (NOAA)
NOAANational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (DOC)
NOSNational Ocean Service (NOAA)
NTHMPNational Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NWS/NOAA)
NTWPNational Tsunami Warning Program (NWS/NOAA)
NWRNOAA Weather Radio (NWS/NOAA)
NWSNational Weather Service (NOAA)
OSTPOffice of Science and Technology Policy (White House)
PTWCPacific Tsunami Warning Center (Ewa Beach, Hawaii, NWS)
PTWMSPacific Tsunami Warning and Mitigation Center
UNESCOUnited Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural
USGSU.S. Geological Survey (DOI)
WC/ATWCWest Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center
(Palmer, AK NWS)
WDCWorld Data Center (U.N. WMO/NOAA)
WFOWeather Forecast Office (NWS/NOAA)
WMOWorld Meteorological Organization (U.N.)
WWPWorld Weather Program (U.N. WMO/NOAA)
WWWWorld Weather Watch (U.N. WMO/NOAA)