The U.S. Senate has unanimously approved legislation that would improve tsunami preparedness and provide more money for research to protect coastal communities from the giant waves.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, who sponsored the bill along with Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, said in a press release the measure strengthens the national tsunami forecasting program and gives communities the abilities to focus risks particular to their areas.

“In Hawaii, that means securing our ports, preparing for the specific impacts to areas with a concentration of high rise buildings, like Waikiki, and looking to Hawaii’s geological past to identify possible tsunami threats in the future,” he said. “The earthquake in Chile last month underlines the importance of strengthening tsunami forecasting and preparedness for Hawaii.”

Sullivan, a Republican serving his first term in Congress, invoked the names of the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and the late Hawaii Sen. Dan Inouye, saying in their “tradition,” he was pleased the bill passed unanimously.

Although Stevens was a Republican and Inouye a Democrat, the two men were good friends and had a long history of working together on common issues of importance to their remote states.

Sullivan noted that early warning of tsunamis is essential for Alaska coastal communities.

Schatz and his staff have been working on the measure for months, Schatz has said the bipartisan support demonstrates that even the largely polarized Congress can find common ground.

Still, President Barack Obama has proposed cutting money for the tsunami mitigation program in his budget, so the Senate measure still has some hurdles ahead.

According to the press release, the Tsunami Warning, Education and Research Act of 2015 would:

• Advance new research related to improving tsunami detection, forecasting, notification and response;

• Ensure supercomputing resources are available for tsunami forecast models and that guidelines and metrics for evaluating and improving tsunami models are disseminated;

• Add language to cover research, forecasting, and preparedness based on data from the geological record to assess tsunami threats — like the mega-tsunami that scientists believe struck Kauai about 500 years ago from the Aleutian Islands to the north;

• Authorize NOAA to put tsunami sensors onto commercial and federal telecommunications cables as a cost-effective way to improve the tsunami detection network;

• Authorize studies on how tsunami currents might affect the stability of clustered high-rise buildings, such as Hawaii’s iconic Waikiki skyline;

• Authorize public-private partnerships for resilience, so that communities can form 501(c)(3) non-profits to accept non-governmental dollars to support tsunami resilience;

• Require tsunami forecasts to support preparedness and response for port and harbor operations, and authorize the evaluation of at-risk ports and harbors, including a review of procedures for preparing, responding, and communicating with the public.

A tsunami warning DART buoy.
A tsunami warning DART buoy. Flickr: National Data Buoy Center.


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