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Amendment Proposed to Federal Tsunami Act

Posted February 26, 2015, 12:56 PM HST
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U.S. Senate Seal. Courtesy Photo.

A vote was held Thursday by the Senate Commerce Committee to advance the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act of 2015, H.R. 34.

United States Senator Brian Schatz offered an amendment to the act, which was adopted with bipartisan support. The amendment would improve tsunami research by including key historical data and strengthen preparedness programs in coastal communities, among many other improvements.

“As an island state with over 700 miles of coastline, a reliable tsunami warning system is critical to protecting our communities. We must do all that we can to be better prepared for an event that affords only minutes or hours for people to respond,” Senator Schatz said. “My legislation will strengthen our tsunami detection, forecast, warning, research, and mitigation program to better protect Hawai’i’s communities and save lives.”

Four key improvements would be made by Senator Schatz’s amendment, including the following:

Adding language to assist in covering research, forecasting, and preparedness that is based on data from the geological record to assess tsunami threats. Tsunami threats are infrequent enough that relying on modern records could lead to overlooking past tsunami threats that are revealed in geological record. Senator Schatz, for instance, noted the mega-tsunami that scientists believe struck Kauai about 500 years ago.

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The authorization of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration to put tsunami sensors on commercial and federal telecommunications cables. Senator Schatz says this could be a cost effective way to improve the tsunami detection network. Existing buoys act as a first line of defense to detect and forecast a tsunami threat, however, they are limited by the cost of deployment and maintenance. The amendment would encourage NOAA to discover how tsunami and detection research sensors could possibly be deployed along telecommunications cables.

Studies on tsunami currents and how they might affect the stability of clustered high-rise buildings, like the Waikiki skyline, are another component of the amendment. Evacuating from the lower floors of a building to upper floors is considered the best practice when a tsunami is just minutes away. Understanding the effects on strength and current of flood water may assist in ensuring the viability of evacuating to upper floors.

A public-private partnership authorization for resilience is also recommended. Communities would be able to form 501 (c)(3) non-profits to accept non-government money in support of tsunami resilience. According to Senator Schatz, the structure of the government is not always flexible enough to adapt to support local needs. Through the amendment, public-private partnerships can address coastal resilience and form foundations to address tsunami preparedness.

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