- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

Congress will consider a $30 million network of buoys, wave gauges and seismic sensors to warn of tsunamis globally, a plan that would build on U.S. and international efforts to avert another catastrophe.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, yesterday proposed the United States take responsibility for building a global tsunami warning system and spending $7.5 million per year to maintain it.

Such a system exists only in the Pacific Ocean. A magnitude 9.0 earthquake in the Indian Ocean on Dec. 26 created the tsunami that devastated coastal areas in South and Southeast Asia and led to deaths as far away as East Africa.

“The death and destruction caused by the South Asian tsunami has exposed a glaring gap in our high-tech age of global connectedness,” Mr. Lieberman said. “And that is the absence of a worldwide tsunami detection and warning system that existing technology can provide us at a relatively low cost.”

Mr. Lieberman’s bill calls for expanding the Pacific system and adding similar ones in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would use up to 50 ocean-based sensors, each costing up to $250,000 to install and $50,000 a year to maintain. Six now exist in the Pacific.

NOAA also would have to pay to collect and relay the information from the ocean to satellites to international warning centers. Though tsunamis are rare, Mr. Lieberman and other government officials said the potential devastation justified the cost.

“If you had a huge tsunami hitting Florida or New York, or it could go right up the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River, you would have a major disaster,” said Larry Roeder, who heads the State Department’s Global Disaster Information Network.

GDIN is working on such a design for protecting huge populations in coastal areas. It will be presented to the United Nations-sponsored World Conference on Disaster Reduction this month in Kobe, Japan.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the Kenya-based U.N. Environment Program, said yesterday that setting up a tsunami early warning system for the Indian Ocean is a high priority, especially to protect small island nations. He said several countries were asking for U.N. help to study how to do it.

“Let us hope that this spirit of solidarity with the victims and their families can be carried on beyond this tragedy, so that the existing and emerging environmental threats … can also be tackled,” Mr. Toepfer said.

Australian scientists are designing an Indian Ocean warning system for about $20 million. About 30 seismographs would detect earthquakes, and 10 tidal gauges and six special buoys would provide deep-ocean assessment and tsunami reporting.

None of the systems proposed, including Mr. Lieberman’s, accounts for a more costly factor — communications links to warn people in coastal areas before giant waves arrive.

Commerce Secretary nominee Carlos M. Gutierrez said at his Senate confirmation hearing this week that better analysis and prediction of weather and maritime hazards will be a priority.

Mr. Lieberman said he didn’t know how long building a global tsunami warning system would take.



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