New plan staffs tsunami center round the clock
Federal funding also provides more buoys for tsunami detection
Hawaii's Pacific Tsunami Warning Center will soon be manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week, under the national plan for tsunami risk reduction released on Thursday. The plan from the president's National Science and Technology Council also calls for additional deep ocean buoys and computer models that can help determine if a tsunami is on its way to Hawaii and for better risk assessments of the potential tsunami hazards for coastal regions.
Congress appropriated $24 million in May to improve the U.S. tsunami system.
The plan is "a positive step," said Ed Teixeira, state vice director of civil defense. "We can't do enough in terms of keeping Hawaii and other places prepared for a tsunami."
Earlier this month, Hawaii became the first state in the nation to be designated tsunami- and storm-ready, part of an effort to improve tsunami emergency plans and awareness.
"Hawaii has always been very aware of the tsunami problem. It didn't take a lot of effort here to get our government convinced we should go through this process," said tsunami warning center Director Charles "Chip" McCreery.
He said scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have wanted to expand and improve the U.S. tsunami detection network for years. The Dec. 26 Indian Ocean tsunami made it easier to get the money for the improvements, he said.
NOAA is adding four deep ocean buoys to increase the network to 10 buoys to better determine if an earthquake has generated a tsunami.
A seismic network around the islands will also be improved, making it easier to detect a locally generated tsunami in Hawaii.
The goal, McCreery said, is to be able to issue a warning about a locally generated tsunami within 90 seconds of an earthquake.
Staff at the Ewa Beach facility are currently on call at nights and on weekends, only a few minutes away in government housing on the property.
But the money appropriated by Congress will pay for an increase in staff from eight to 15 people in the next year, enabling the center to be manned continuously.
NOAA also spent $4.6 million to improve warnings against tsunami and other hazards for India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand and the Maldives. Scientists from Hawaii are helping to develop an Indian Ocean tsunami detection network.
On the state level, the governor is asking the Legislature for $21.6 million for emergency preparedness, including money to upgrade state buildings and emergency shelters, add emergency sirens, update tsunami inundation maps, staff the state emergency center 24 hours a day and provide for disaster education in schools.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.