States lack software to predict tsunami damage

The Government Accountability Office has found that states do not have the software necessary to determine the potential loss of human life and property from a tsunami, but the agency tasked with developing such software does not have enough money to follow through.

“State assessments of likely tsunami impacts on people and infrastructure have been limited, in part, due to a lack of tsunami loss estimation software, as exists for floods and other hazards,” states a GAO report to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee; the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency has created standardized computer software for predicting damage caused by other natural disasters, no such tool exists for tsunamis.

“Consequently, emergency managers in the at-risk states and U.S. territories do not have comprehensive information on how many and what types of structures would be exposed and damaged, how many people could be injured or killed, or the extent of potential short- and long-term economic impacts of a tsunami,” states the report, which was released this week.

GAO officials are advising the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to work with FEMA and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop standardized tsunami loss estimation software.

Officials from the Homeland Security Department, which oversees FEMA, agreed with the recommendation but noted that FEMA does not have the resources to carry out the request. The National Institute of Building Sciences -- which produced the existing software for other hazards with FEMA -- has estimated that developing tsunami loss estimation methods and software would take about three years, at a cost of up to $10 million.

In response to a draft of the report, Steven Pecinovsky, director of DHS’ Departmental GAO/OIG Liaison Office, wrote, "While there are several additional hazards that could be added to the [software] package, including wildfire and tornado as well as tsunami, FEMA does not have the funding or staff resources to pursue this. Any request from NOAA in this regard would need to address these needs.”

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