Just as Midwesterners would be upset if a third of the nation’s tornado-warning system were out of commission, coastal residents have cause for deep concern that one-third of deep-ocean tsunami stations have been permitted to go dead.

    Upcoming sequestration cuts on top of a pre-existing $100 million budget deficit in its National Weather Service threaten long-term delays in how well the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) responds to this frightening gap in national shoreline defense.

    The independent government-monitoring group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) provides this summary of the situation:

    NOAA completed its Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) network of 39 anchored buoy stations covering the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in 2008. NOAA claims the “DART network serves as the cornerstone of the U.S. tsunami warning system” yet one in three stations are not functioning. The average dead period for non-reporting DART stations exceeds 6 months. Other stations are reporting sporadic data that is not useable, say NOAA scientists.

    One of the worst gaps in the network is directly across from us in the northwestern Pacific, where the five DART buoys closest to the seismically dangerous Kuril Trench are non-responsive.

    PEER notes that in the past decade, tsunamis have killed more people than almost every other natural hazard combined. Since 1900, more than 100 tsunamis have hit Pacific U.S. states and territories. Thankfully, these have resulted in few deaths in Oregon and Washington. But our luck is certain to run out someday.

    NOAA and Congress must put a high priority on giving Americans the warning we need to escape from tsunamis. Failure to do so would be tantamount to the negligent mistakes that allowed the 9/11 attacks, when we discovered that trillions in national defense spending did not include homeland defense.

    Let’s get these buoys up and running — now.

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