Washington, D.C. – Today, the Senate Commerce Committee voted to advance the Tsunami Warning, Education, and Research Act of 2015, H.R. 34. U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) offered an amendment, adopted with bipartisan support, which would improve tsunami research by including key historical data and strengthen preparedness programs in coastal communities.
“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,” said Senator Schatz. “My legislation will strengthen our tsunami detection, forecast, warning, research, and mitigation program to better protect Hawai‘i’s communities and save lives.”
The Schatz amendment made the following key improvements:
- Adds language to cover research, forecasting, and preparedness based on data from the geological record to assess tsunami threats—like the mega-tsunami that scientists believe struck Kauai about 500 years ago from the Aleutian Islands to the north.
Major tsunami events are infrequent enough that relying on modern records alone could easily overlook past tsunami threats revealed in the geological record. Having a thorough understanding of the full range of tsunami threats a community faces is critical for resilience planning.
- Authorizes NOAA to put tsunami sensors onto commercial and federal telecommunications cables as a cost-effective way to improve the tsunami detection network.
The existing network of tsunami buoys provides an essential first line of defense to detect and forecast tsunami, but their scope is limited by the costs of deployment and maintenance. In order to create a more robust system with limited resources, the amendment encourages NOAA to explore how tsunami detection and research sensors could be deployed along with telecommunications cables.
- Authorizes studies on how tsunami currents might affect the stability of clustered high-rise buildings, such as Hawai‘i’s iconic Waikiki skyline.
Evacuating from the lower floors of a building to its upper floors is considered to be not only viable, but the best practice when a tsunami is only minutes away. Just as the high density of tall buildings in a typical downtown district can create a canyon effect to amplify the force of winds, understanding their effect on strength and current of flood water may help to ensure the viability of evacuating to the upper floors of a building.
- Authorizes public-private partnerships for resilience, so that communities can form 501(c)(3) non-profits to accept non-governmental dollars to support tsunami resilience.
More and more communities understand the necessity of resilience planning at the whole-community scale, but the structure of federal government is not always nimble enough to adapt to support local needs. The amendment language authorizes public-private partnerships to address coastal resilience, together with the formation of 501(c)(3) foundations in order to accept and use non-federal funding to address tsunami preparedness.