On December 20, 2006, President Bush signed into law H.R. 1674, the “Tsunami Warning and Education Act,” designed to strengthen tsunami detection, forecasting, warning, and mitigation in the United States and abroad. The Act authorizes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), through the National Weather Service (NWS), to operate a tsunami detection, forecasting, and warning program for the Pacific and Arctic Ocean regions, as well as for the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico region.
It also directs the NOAA Administrator to maintain or establish a Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii, a West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska, and additional centers to be determined by the NWS. The centers’ responsibilities will include data monitoring, earthquake evaluation, and data dissemination to researchers. Over five years, $135 million will be allocated to increasing the number of deep-ocean buoys used to detect potentially devastating waves. The proposed Deep-Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami (DART) buoy system will have a final array of approximately 24 buoys in the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, and Caribbean Sea by 2012.
The Act also provides for increased emphasis on tsunami education and outreach programs, a key recommendation of expert witnesses who testified at a January 26, 2005, Science Committee hearing. The witnesses urged a greater focus on educating the public on how to respond in the event that a tsunami warning is issued. For links to the full text of H.R. 1674, see http://thomas.loc.gov.
At the 61st Interdepartmental Hurricane Conference, held in New Orleans in early March 2007, federal agencies involved in hurricane research released a report on the future of hurricane forecasting capabilities titled Interagency Strategic Research Plan for Tropical Cyclones: The Way Ahead. The plan, compiled by the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research, identifies areas within the field of hurricane-related sciences that need research and focuses on transferring this research into operations.
The strategic research plan presents a comprehensive strategy that was developed over the past two years by the staff at the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology (OFCM) and the Joint Action Group for Tropical Cyclone Research. The plan’s authors began by reviewing the tropical cyclone research and development community and then examined the current capabilities and limitation of the nation’s tropical cyclone forecast and warning system. They summarized the operational needs of the tropical cyclone forecast and warning centers and planned capabilities to meet the needs. With these needs in mind, the strategic research plan identifies tropical cyclone research priorities and presents a comprehensive roadmap of activities to further improve the effectiveness of the nation’s tropical cyclone forecast and warning service during the next decade and beyond.
The plan makes recommendations for improved tropical cyclone reconnaissance, surveillance, and observation through manned and unmanned vehicles, space-based platforms, remote sensing, and other forms. In addition to identifying research needed in the atmospheric and oceanic sciences, the strategic research plan also includes areas of research that are needed in social sciences to include the warning process, decision making, behavioral response, and social impacts.
An OFCM-sponsored working group with representation from all applicable agencies will be formed to begin implementing the recommendations, including identification of funding strategies.
The full report can be found online at www.ofcm.gov/p36-isrtc/fcm-p36.htm.
A new study by the Trust for America’s Health, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, estimates that a pandemic in the United States would cause 87.5 million people to miss work for three weeks, which could cause the U.S. gross domestic product to drop by more than 5.5%, resulting in economic losses totaling $683 billion. The report, titled Pandemic Flu and the Potential for U.S. Economic Recession, states that a severe flu outbreak would make at least 30% of the population sick (90 million people) and would kill at least 2.25 million people. The study looked at potential impacts on each state and projected that the average state would experience a 5.5% decline it its economy. The Trust for America’s Health based its conclusions on studies by the Congressional Budget Office, the Australian National University/Lowy Institute, and BMO Nesbitt Burns, an investment firm. The organizations considered variables such as the severity of the flu strain, lost labor productivity, and the epidemic’s impact on health care and the demand for products and services. To view the full report, visit http://healthyamericans.org/reports/flurecession/.
In February, after completing its notification of levee owners, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released the locations of levee units nationwide with unacceptable maintenance inspection ratings. An unacceptable maintenance rating means a levee has one or more deficient conditions that could prevent the project from functioning as designed. Examples of maintenance deficiencies include animal burrows, erosion, tree growth, movement of floodwalls, or faulty culvert conditions.
The Corps inspects some 2,000 levee units annually, including projects built and maintained by the Corps, projects built by the Corps and transferred to a local owner to operate and maintain, and non-federal projects built by a local community. The latter two categories, if properly maintained and operated by the owner, are eligible for federal rehabilitation assistance. After conducting the inspections and entering the data, local Corps district offices review the results with the local levee owner responsible for operations and maintenance, ensuring that the levee owner understands the deficiencies and the consequences if not corrected.
“Our ultimate goals are reduced risk and increased public safety through an informed public empowered to take responsibility for its safety,” said Maj. Gen. Don T. Riley, Director of Civil Works. “We are working closely with federal, state, and local partners to inform the public so they understand the risks associated with living and working behind levees. This is best accomplished at the local level where levee activity most directly impacts the public.”
The national levee inventory database is dynamic and is updated regularly; therefore, it is subject to change as new inspections take place and levee owners address deficiencies.
To view the complete list of levee units, see www.hq.usace.army.mil/cepa/releases/leveelist.pdf. For more details about the National Levee Safety Program, see the fact sheet at www.hq.usace.army.mil/cepa/releases/leveesafetyfactsheet.pdf
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Connecticut) announced the formation of two subcommittees that will focus on U.S. emergency preparedness and disaster planning. The Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), will look into issues related to the government’s work helping communities recover from disasters, particularly Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The State, Local, and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration Subcommittee, chaired by Senator Mark Pryor (D-Arkansas), will oversee Department of Homeland Security efforts relating to state and local fusion centers, state and local law enforcement grants, and integration of private sector efforts to prepare for and respond to emergencies.
Aging NASA Satellite Could Threaten Hurricane Forecasting Accuracy
A NASA satellite that plays a key role in hurricane forecasting could be in the final phases of its life. The Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT) was one of several NASA satellites that provided important details about Hurricane Katrina’s storm structure and strength throughout her life cycle, which aided forecasters and emergency managers. The shear power of storms like Katrina makes it difficult to obtain accurate wind and rainfall measurements, but scatterometers like the SeaWinds instrument onboard the QuikSCAT satellite help overcome this problem. By sending energy through the atmosphere to the ocean surface and measuring the reflection or scattering effect, meteorologists can determine a storm’s wind speed and direction. While other radar-based satellites can measure wind speed, only the scatterometer can measure the wind vector, or the speed and direction together.
Data derived from ocean scatterometers are vital to studies of air-sea interaction and ocean circulation and their effects on weather patterns and global climate. The data are also useful in studying unusual weather phenomena, such as El Niño, that play a role in regulating global climate.
Computer modeling of global atmospheric dynamics for the purpose of weather forecasting has become an increasingly important tool to meteorologists. Scatterometer data, with wide swath coverage, have been shown to significantly improve the forecast accuracy of these models. Combining scatterometer data of ocean surface wind speed and direction with measurements from other scientific instruments enables scientists to better understand the mechanisms of global climate change and weather patterns.
QuikSCAT was designed to last five years and is now in its seventh year of operation, with no immediate plans to replace it. If the satellite fails, hurricane forecasting accuracy could suffer, and the loss in accuracy could translate into larger areas being placed under hurricane warnings.
On April 2, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases in automobile emissions. In addition, the court ruled that the EPA cannot dodge its responsibility to regulate these emissions unless it provides a scientific basis for the assertion that greenhouse gases do not contribute to climate change. The 5-4 decision was a strong message to the Bush administration, which has stated that the Clean Air Act does not grant the EPA the right to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions. Among the many court cases awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision is one related to the agency’s refusal to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, which is now pending in federal appeals court.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the United States produces 22% of the planet’s human-made carbon dioxide emissions. In a report released earlier this year (see March 2007 Observer), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” Although the ruling does not force the EPA to impose new regulations on auto emissions, it will likely face further legal actions if it fails to do so.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has released $194 million to help states and local governments prepare and implement emergency management activities through the Emergency Management Performance Grant (EMPG) program. Emergency managers have been awarded more than $750 million since fiscal year 2004 through the program.
State emergency management agencies use EMPG funds to enhance their emergency management capabilities in a range of areas that include planning, equipping, and training; conducting exercises; and providing for all-hazards emergency management operations. In addition, EMPG funds are used to pay for personnel who write plans, conduct training and exercise programs, maintain emergency response programs, and educate the public on disaster readiness. For more information on the fiscal year 2007 EMPG, including a list of grant allocations by state, please visit www.dhs.gov.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) awarded $34.6 million to first responders across the nation to fund equipment and training programs as part of the fiscal year 2006 Commercial Equipment Direct Assistance Program (CEDAP). CEDAP offers equipment in the following categories: personal protective equipment; thermal imaging, night vision, and video surveillance tools; chemical and biological detection tools; information technology and risk management tools; and interoperable communications equipment. The program also focuses on smaller communities and metropolitan areas not eligible for the Urban Areas Security Initiative grant program. Awardees are required to receive training on their awarded equipment either on-site or at a CEDAP training conference. For more information on CEDAP and other DHS grant programs visit www.dhs.gov.