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NOAA Cuts May Weaken Tsunami Mitigation Programs

Proposed federal cuts next year would leave hundreds of coastal communities vulnerable to tsunamis.  

That’s according to a group that released documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act.  50 of those communities are in Oregon and another 52 are in Washington.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, has proposed cutting its Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program in the 2013 budget. The program makes evacuation plans; supports emergency services; and pays for things like sirens and signs.

Jeff Ruch is the executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. It’s a non-profit alliance of local, state and federal employees.

Ruch says documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show that of the 700 communities at risk of tsunamis, only 100 are prepared.

“The amount of money that’s being spent now for these sorts of programs are about $4 million, that’s just a drop in the budget of NOAA’s budget. We’ve likened it to a homeowner economizing by turning off their smoke alarm.”

Ruch says NOAA is also considering cutting some of the buoys that monitor earthquakes in the Pacific.
An underwater earthquake can cause a tsunami.

“So they’re going to cut 80 percent readiness to 60 percent operational readiness and their plans had not gotten a warm receptions in Congress but right now, the budget situation is in such a mess, we have no idea what’s going to come out.”

The National Weather Service, which is a department within NOAA, is embroiled in fiscal problems.  So NOAA’s final budget is up in the air.

NOAA says its ability to provide critical tsunami alerts is not jeopardized by the proposed cuts.

“NOAA will continue working in close partnership with other state and federal agencies on community-based tsunami preparedness, particularly through the Tsunami-ready program. The mission critical operations of seismic detection and warning development and communication systems were prioritized in the budget,” according to NOAA spokesman, John Ewald.

The budget has yet to be passed by Congress.

According to NOAA records,  more than 100 tsunamis have hit the west coast of the Americas since the 1900s, killing nearly 400 people.

The agency says there are more than 700 communities at risk of tsunami’s in the US. California has the most, followed by Maine, then Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

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