Committee pushes through tsunami bill

Members of the House Science Committee recently approved a bill that would fund a Bush administration request for new tsunami-detection buoys and stress education and community outreach components of tsunami preparedness.

After a voice vote last week, the committee passed the legislation for review by the entire House. The bill would increase funding and place more emphasis on the administration's request for 32 new deep-ocean buoys in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea and 38 new sea-level monitoring and tide-gauge stations. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), committee chairman, and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) introduced the new bill.

Boehlert offered an amendment that made technical changes to the bill, reduced the fiscal 2006 appropriation authorization from $30 million to $26 million. He also incorporated Democratic recommendations, including increased funding for the federal/state tsunami hazard mitigation program. Overall funding under the bill would be $86 million in three years, more than the $37.5 million in two years originally requested by Bush administration officials.

In January, Boehlert said the president's plan must offer a program of public awareness and not simply more ocean buoys.

At a hearing of Boehlert’s committee earlier this year, Jay Wilson, coordinator for earthquake and tsunami programs in Oregon's Emergency Management Division, said the administration's proposed oceanwide buoy program would not limit loss of life in coastal areas nearest to earthquake faults. Public education would improve the administration's plan, Wilson said.

"The most cost-effective means of limiting loss of life from locally produced tsunamis is mapping where the dangerous areas are and then implementing a long-term, relentless public education campaign aimed at developing the 'culture of awareness' that will cause people to leave these dangerous areas when they feel a large earthquake at the coast," Wilson said at the Jan. 26 hearing.

Now, the measure awaits a full House vote. A date hasn’t been determined yet for floor consideration.

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