Cantwell Bill to Strengthen Tsunami Warning Systems Passes Committee

Senator: ‘We want to do everything we can to make sure that people are ready’


WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee approved bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) that would reauthorize and strengthen the nation’s tsunami detection and warning systems and continue investing in research to better prepare coastal communities.

Cantwell spearheaded the Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act of 2015 along with Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). The legislation 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. The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

“This bill would integrate more earthquake data into models to improve tsunami forecast; strengthen coordination between NOAA and the weather service; require NOAA to develop uniform standards for forecasting; require NOAA to integrate new ocean data into models; and authorize NOAA to integrate emerging and effective mass communication tools into the warning system,” Cantwell said.

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.

“Some of the worst possibilities are in the Pacific Northwest Cascadia subduction zone, which is located not far off the coast of Washington, Oregon and California,” Cantwell said. “In the 1700s this fault generated a 9 magnitude earthquake, the largest earthquake that has ever been known to hit the lower 48. Scientists estimate that the Cascadia fault earthquake and tsunami could be very similar to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami.  Nearly 10 years ago, that tsunami impacted 14 countries and resulted in 230,000 people losing their lives. ”

“Twenty minutes is not enough time to evacuate everyone from coastal communities. And that’s why this legislation requires NOAA and the Department of Homeland Security to submit a report to Congress on the readiness of our first responders in the event of near shore tsunamis.”

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 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 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 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 previously secured funding to purchase additional warning sirens for coastal areas in Washington state.