Outages spread in tsunami warning system, group claims
March 4, 2013
• Says one-third of deep ocean stations are “dead”
• “A tsunami public safety net that is fraying”
The nation’s ocean-based tsunami warning system is going deaf as up to a third of its mid-Ocean monitoring devices have failed, claims Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
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NOAA completed its “Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis” network of 39 anchored buoy stations, (dubbed “DART”) covering the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in 2008.
But now one out of three of the stations isn’t working, says PEER. The average dead period for non-reporting DART stations exceeds six months, it says. Other stations are reporting sporadic data that is not useable, say NOAA scientists, PEER claims.
Significantly, one area with a big coverage gap is the Kuril Trench, off the Pacific coast of Russia, part of the “Ring of Fire” named for its active tectonic subduction zones that generate large tsunamigenic earthquakes, the group says. Five of the DART buoys closest to the Kuril Trench are non-responsive.
Each DART is supposed to send acoustic signals from a transmitter anchored on the sea floor to a surface buoy. As a tsunami moves across the ocean, the DART reports bottom pressure changes in the entire column of water above. These open ocean readings provide NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Centers with “data critical to real-time forecast” for “early detection of tsunamis” to enable more accurate watches, warnings and, if needed, evacuations, according to NOAA.
Since 1900, more than 100 tsunamis have hit Pacific U.S. states and territories.
“Yet today, less than one in seven at-risk American communities is ‘adequately prepared for a tsunami,’” says PEER, citing “official estimates” it obtained.
Of the 767 “tsunami at-risk communities” NOAA classifies only 100 communities as “tsunami ready,” a status denoting sufficient evacuation plans, emergency operations support, sirens, signage and other measures to mitigate tsunami losses.
“The DART network is part of a tsunami public safety net that is fraying,” says PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch. “In a tsunami, every moment of advance warning is crucial.”