Tsunami center
expansion up for vote

A national tsunami warning system with the capability to monitor the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Atlantic and Pacific oceans will require the doubling of the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center's staff and a possible move of the Ewa Beach facility to Ford Island, says U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

Inouye and Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens introduced legislation last month that would expand the center's reach beyond the Pacific Ocean in the wake of the Dec. 26 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunamis that killed more than 234,000 people.

Palmer, Alaska, is home to the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center. Both the Alaska and Hawaii centers monitor seismic activity in the Pacific basin and are operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"We hope that with the passage of this measure, we will really upgrade this operation and the one in Alaska as a 24/7 operation," Inouye said yesterday during a visit to the center.

The legislation proposes to increase the number of warning buoys to 29 from six, upgrade or replace existing equipment and coordinate mitigation efforts among county, state and federal agencies.

Inouye said he believes the measure will win approval when the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee votes next week.

There are eight staff members at the Ewa Beach center, and two more positions are vacant, said Director Charles McCreery. Staff members are on call during nonbusiness hours. McCreery said expanding the center's operation will require six more positions and more space.

"We need more space even if we stayed the same size," he said.

NOAA designated Ford Island as its preferred site yesterday to consolidate its operations scattered throughout Oahu. However, the center is not included in the consolidation plan so far.

"At this moment they're in the midst of discussion, not just with the Navy, but within the family itself, as to whether this operation should go to Ford Island as part of the NOAA operation," Inouye said.

NOAA spends $70 million a year for its programs in Hawaii, said Delores Clark, NOAA spokeswoman.

The consolidated center will house NOAA's Pacific fisheries programs, Weather Service's Pacific Regional Headquarters and International Tsunami Information Center and National Ocean Service Pacific Services Center.

It will also include offices for the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve and a Pacific marine operations base to support NOAA's fleet.

The center will house 500 NOAA employees in restored, historic World War II-era buildings. The project is expected to be completed in early 2010 and cost $240 million.

The tsunami warning center is on 176 acres in Ewa Beach owned by the National Weather Service.

Sen. Daniel Inouye
Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

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