Bipartisan Tsunami Bill Unanimously Passes Senate, Strengthens Coastal Disaster Preparedness

Bill provides improvements to tsunami detection and warning systems, funding for research

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) announced their tsunami detection and warning systems legislation unanimously passed the Senate. The bill reauthorizes and enhances tsunami preparedness and increases investment in research to protect coastal communities.

The Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act of 2015 would strengthen the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) tsunami warning system and advance new research related to improving tsunami detection, forecasting, notification and response.

“With more than 300,000 Washingtonians living along the Cascadia fault in a tsunami danger zone, we must prepare our coastal communities. This legislation improves our emergency warning infrastructure, provides funding to our state-based emergency management programs, and bolsters readiness assessments for coastal areas at-risk,” said Sen. Cantwell.

“In the tradition of Senators Ted Stevens and Dan Inouye, I am pleased to see this bill unanimously pass the Senate,” said Sen. Sullivan.  “In the event of the next tsunami, adequate warning for Alaska’s coastal communities is essential.  This legislation will ensure that important monitoring centers, vital research advancements and community based mitigation programs continue in a cost effective manner.”

"The earthquake in Chile last month showed the strength of NOAA's tsunami network.  NOAA’s quick response to identify a minimal risk to Hawaii avoided the costs and panic of an unnecessary evacuation.  The bill we passed today lays the foundation for even higher standards for NOAA’s warning products so that coastal communities can better prepare for the specific impacts they are likely to face on their harbors and ports, downtown districts, and evacuation routes,” said Sen. Schatz.

Washington state’s coastal economy supports 165,000 jobs and produces $30 billion in economic activity each year. Nationwide, more than 120 million live on or near coastlines.

The Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act of 2015 would:

  • Advance new research related to improving tsunami detection, forecasting, notification and response;
  • Enhance tsunami preparedness for ports and harbors by directing the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program and the U.S. Coast Guard to evaluate and recommend procedures for communication and response plans;
  • Ensure supercomputing resources are available for tsunami forecast models and that guidelines and metrics for evaluating and improving tsunami models are disseminated;
  • Direct NOAA, the National Guard and the Department of Homeland Security  to conduct a readiness assessment for areas at-risk for a near-shore tsunami such as the Cascadia fault;
  • Require tsunami warning centers to work with local weather forecasting offices to ensure timely and accurate delivery of warnings.

Cantwell has been a leader in ensuring Pacific Northwest coastlines are prepared for tsunamis. In 2006, Cantwell pushed for passage of the Tsunami Warning and Education Act (TWEA) (P.L. 109-424) that enabled Washington state to improve tsunami evacuation routes, update maps, and increase the number of DART warning buoys worldwide. Cantwell also secured funding to purchase additional warning sirens for coastal areas in Washington state.