Funding for the Pacific Ocean tsunami warning network would be reduced by $4.6 million if President Barack Obama’s proposed 2013 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget passes Congress.
The cut, analyzed last week by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and first reported Wednesday by the San Jose Mercury News, would principally affect NOAA’s network of tsunami warning buoys and its tsunami observatory in Palmer, which could close as a result.
The proposed budget also slices millions from the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, which funds the blue tsunami safety zone signs that dot Kodiak Island’s coastline.
According to the Mercury News, the cuts were not revealed in public budget presentations and came to light only through internal emails and contacts between NOAA and state authorities.
Kodiak city manager Aimée Kniaziowski said she was not aware of the cuts, but said it is something she will look out for.
“Anything that has to do with emergency planning and disaster response is very important to the city and to the entire community,” she said.
Unlike other areas of the state, Kodiak controls its tsunami siren locally. Kodiak police department dispatchers monitor the tsunami warning network and are alerted through the NOAA weather radio system. In other areas of the state, the Palmer observatory sounds local sirens automatically.
Bud Cassidy, the borough’s director of community development, has been overseeing a project to replace tsunami sirens in rural locations. He said that effort is being funded primarily through state grants, but it’s difficult to know when to sound the sirens without a long-distance observatory.
“It’s certainly nice to have a tsunami network, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “That’s what those deep-sea buoys are for.”
With a $1 million cut to the buoy program alone, even if the buoys are there, they may not be effective. Created in 1996, the buoy program was expanded to 39 in 2004 after the Indian Ocean tsunami. NOAA currently spends $11 million per year to maintain the network, but that isn’t enough to keep all of them operating simultaneously. Currently, 10 are out of service because of maintenance problems, including one south of the Aleutians.
Jane Hollingsworth, NOAA’s tsunami program manager, told the Mercury News that the agency hopes to work with foreign governments to maintain and repair U.S. buoys.
Kodiak police chief T.C. Kamai said his department continues to take tsunami readiness seriously and the 2 p.m. Wednesday testing of city sirens shows that.
“I have no concerns with our ability to activate our local sirens … but how it will affect us down the line, it’s difficult to say,” Kamai said.
Contact Mirror editor James Brooks at editor@kodiak