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14 January 2005

U.S. Announces Accelerated Plan for Tsunami Warning System

Effort is part of Global Earth Observation System of Systems

By Cheryl Pellerin
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Bush administration announced a plan January 14 to expand U.S. tsunami detection and warning capabilities in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans as part of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), the international effort to develop a comprehensive, sustained and integrated Earth observation system.

At a press briefing in Washington, officials from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Science Foundation said they are ready to invest $37.5 million in the plan over the next two years.

“President Bush is committed to ensuring the safety and protection of U.S. lives and property through a system of monitoring and emergency response that will mitigate the effects of natural disasters, including earthquakes and tsunamis, said John Marburger, science advisor to the president and OSTP director.

“This plan will enable enhanced monitoring, detection, warning and communications that will protect lives and property in the U.S. and a significant part of the world, Marburger said. “Working through GEOSS and other international partners, the U.S. will continue to provide leadership in planning and implementing a global observation system and a global tsunami warning system, which will ultimately include the Indian Ocean, he added.

The newly announced U.S. plan will allow significant warning capabilities for all of the Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean areas, a vast stretch of the world’s oceans, said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher.

“We are bringing to the international table a significant contribution to a global system and we look forward to working with our international partners to develop an end-to-end system, Lautenbacher said.

Marburger said the additional commitment of funds represents an acceleration of an existing U.S. plan that might have taken some years to put in place.

“These events happen about once every decade in the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean they are rare, so the planning that had been done up to this time was quite useful, he said. “But world attention has been focused on the vulnerability of those near the edge of oceans, and we have the responsibility to respond.

With the new investment, NOAA will deploy 32 new advanced technology Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (DART) buoys for a fully operational tsunami warning system by mid-2007. The USGS will enhance its seismic monitoring and information delivery from the Global Seismic Network, a partnership with the NSF.

According to NOAA, the new system will provide the United States with nearly 100 percent detection capability for a U.S. coastal tsunami, allowing response within minutes or seconds. The system will also expand monitoring capabilities throughout the entire Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean basins, providing tsunami warning for regions bordering half the world’s oceans.

The United States has led the GEOSS effort since 2003, when the G-8 called for establishing a global observation system. The Bush administration launched the GEOSS process by hosting the first Earth Observation Summit in July 2003.

GEOSS now has 54 participating nations, including India, Indonesia and Thailand, and each country will make its own contribution to the global earth observing system. The U.S. component of GEOSS is called the Strategic Plan for the U.S. Integrated Earth Observation System, which, like the GEOSS plan, focuses on nine societal benefit areas, including reducing loss of life and property from disasters and protecting and monitoring ocean resources.

The U.S. component won’t stop at the nation’s borders, Marburger said. “Enhancements to the U.S. system, which is being developed as an integral part of GEOSS, will benefit neighboring countries – Canada, Mexico, Caribbean countries and Central and South America – and enhance the existing Pacific tsunami warning system, which already has 26 member states.

The design for the new global GEOSS system is set for adoption at the Third Earth Observation Summit in Brussels February 16.

The U.S. plan for a tsunami warning system will build on existing efforts by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Marburger said.

UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura announced January 12 at the International Meeting on Small Island Developing States in Mauritius that the United Nations plans to have an Indian Ocean tsunami early warning system up and running by June 2006, with a global system operational a year after that.

Marburger explained that an early warning system for any kind of natural disaster requires much more than buoys or other devices.

Key components of an ideal tsunami warning and response system include risk assessment, a detection system, a warning system for alerting vulnerable populations to take action, a response plan, an educated public, situational awareness during the event and an emergency infrastructure.

Information about GEOSS is available

Information about the draft U.S. strategic plan is available at

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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