NOAA, coastal states discuss U.S. tsunami capabilities, local preparedness needs

Conference highlights lessons learned from recent Japan tsunami

June 10, 2011

NOAA and its federal partners are meeting today on Capitol Hill with East Coast, Gulf and Caribbean state officials to discuss U.S. tsunami warning capabilities and the need for better local preparedness. NOAA’s National Weather Service organized the federal-state conference at the request of Rep. Frank Wolf.

Tsunami Ready - National Weather Service

“I'd like to thank NOAA for hosting this conference and bringing to light such an important issue,” Wolf said. “We need to make sure that all of our local state governors and their emergency management and first responder agency staff know what to do if hit with a tsunami. I hope that this meeting today will achieve that goal. ”

“Japan is one of the best disaster-prepared nations in the world, yet they have been severely challenged to respond to and recover from the devastating combination of earthquakes, tsunamis and radiation leaks,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “However, Japan’s preparedness actually did pay off, and may have saved as many as 337,000 lives based on population estimates in affected areas. We can learn from their challenges and successes.”

The tsunami threat is often overlooked in the Atlantic basin, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, because catastrophic events in that region have been rare. However, in January 2010, an earthquake off the coast of Haiti generated a 10-foot high tsunami, and nearly 2,000 people were killed in 1946 when a tsunami struck the Dominican Republic.

Tsunami Hazard Zone sign

“Make no mistake: the threat of tsunamis along the eastern seaboard, Gulf coast and Caribbean islands is very real,” Lubchenco said.  “Vulnerable communities should be prepared.”

NOAA’s two tsunami warning centers provide around-the-clock monitoring and warning of tsunami threats for the United States and many other parts of the world. Assisting in the effort to deliver accurate tsunami forecasts is a vast network of NOAA tsunami detection buoys, which use satellite technology to transmit wave height to the warning centers as a tsunami passes, and coastal tide and water level gauges positioned near coastlines and harbors to measure waves at impact. NOAA recently launched a new Caribbean Tsunami Warning Program, which aims to increase awareness and preparedness throughout the Caribbean.

Conference speakers are highlighting the importance of NOAA’s TsunamiReady™ program, which increases public awareness of the threat tsunamis pose, improves local hazard planning and strengthens warning communications between the public, the National Weather Service and emergency managers. Eighty-four U.S. communities have earned the TsunamiReady designation, including 15 on the East Coast and 12 in Puerto Rico. To improve U.S. tsunami preparedness, Lubchenco committed to increase these numbers and she urged every American school located in a coastal inundation zone to develop a tsunami evacuation plan.

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