The GAO released a report yesterday on the state of tsunami preparedness, looking at the tsunami risks facing the U.S., assessing the measures in place to deal with tsunamis (focused on warning, education, evacuation, and mitigation), and assessing the steps taken in the 18 months since the Indian Ocean tsunami. The report focuses on the activities of the federal National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP) at NOAA, and offers numerous examples of what states and cities have done to prepare for this threat.
The Seattle Times writes about the release of the report today, focusing on one issue raised in the report: the spreading of funds away from high-threat areas (i.e. the five Pacific-facing states, and also Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands) to a national focus (the East and Gulf coasts). The story notes:
Washington and other West Coast states vulnerable to tsunamis could see their funding drop as the federal government expands its preparedness program to the East and Gulf coasts, where the risk of deadly waves is low, says a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
The report, issued Monday, also questions the program’s emphasis on high-tech options, like tsunami-detection buoys, instead of public education and tsunami drills, which may be more effective in saving lives.
Much of the $35 million in extra money appropriated after the disastrous Indonesian tsunami is being spent on detection and warning systems that will be of little benefit to people on the Pacific Coast, the report said.
The biggest danger here is from an earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone, which could send 30-foot waves onshore within half an hour â€” too little time for many communities to organize evacuations.
GAO urged the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), one of the lead federal agencies for the program, to carefully evaluate the costs and benefits of its approach before moving ahead.
Some Washington emergency managers agreed with some of the report’s criticisms. “We’re hopping mad” about the expansion plans, said Tim Walsh, geologic-hazards program manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.
Now, five Pacific states each get about $275,000 a year from the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program. But next year, up to 23 states and territories will be eligible to apply for a share.
If risk assessments are based on population, a city like New York might jump to the head of the list, even though the odds of a tsunami there are extremely low, Walsh said.
Just as NYC and DC deserve to be at the top of the list for terror-related funding, it makes little sense to divert tsunami funding to Atlantic and Gulf Coast states – the Cumbre Vieja landslide threat notwithstanding. The primary threats are to Hawaii and the stretch of the Pacific Northwest facing the Cascadia fault – and that’s where the preparedness resources should be concentrated.