U.S. Tsunami Preparedness: Federal and State Partners Collaborate to Help Communities Reduce Potential Impacts, but Significant Challenges Remain Page: 2 of 65
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aAccountabiity Integrity Reliability
Highlights of GAO-06-519, a report to
congressional committees and Senator
Why GAO Did This Study
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
raised questions about U.S.
preparedness for such an event.
The National Oceanic and
(NOAA) leads U.S. detection and
warning efforts and partners with
federal and state agencies in the
National Tsunami Hazard
Mitigation Program (NTHMP) to
reduce tsunami risks. In 2005,
Congress appropriated $17.24
million in supplemental funding to
enhance these efforts.
This report (1) identifies U.S.
coastal areas facing the greatest
tsunami hazard and the extent to
which potential impacts have been
assessed, (2) discusses the
effectiveness of the existing federal
tsunami warning system, (3)
describes efforts to mitigate the
potential impacts of tsunamis on
coastal communities, and (4)
assesses NOAA's efforts to develop
long-range plans for federal
GAO recommends, among other
things, that NOAA take steps to
develop software for tsunami loss
estimation, conduct periodic end-
to-end warning system tests,
increase high-risk community
participation in its tsunami
preparedness program and prepare
risk-based strategic plans for its
NOAA reviewed a draft of this
report and generally agreed with
the findings and recommendations.
To view the full product, including the scope
and methodology, click on the link above.
For more information, contact Anu Mittal at
(202) 512-3841or email@example.com.
U.S. TSUNAMI PREPAREDNESS
Federal and State Partners Collaborate to
Help Communities Reduce Potential
Impacts, but Significant Challenges
What GAO Found
NOAA has determined that the Pacific coast states of Alaska, California,
Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin
Islands in the Caribbean Sea, face the greatest tsunami hazard. The east and
Gulf coasts are relatively low-hazard areas. While high-hazard areas have
been identified, limited information exists on the likely impacts of a tsunami
in those areas. Some coastal areas lack inundation maps showing the
potential extent of tsunami flooding in communities, and others have maps
that may be unreliable. 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.
Although federal warning centers quickly detect potential tsunamis and issue
warnings, false alarms and warning system limitations hamper their
effectiveness. Some state and local emergency managers have raised
concerns about false alarms-the 16 warnings issued since 1982 were not
followed by destructive tsunamis on U.S. shores-potentially causing
citizens to ignore future warnings. Furthermore, limitations in the
Emergency Alert System and NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards may impede
timely warnings to communities. For example, signal coverage for these two
systems is insufficient to transmit warnings to some coastal areas and failure
to properly activate them has resulted in warnings being delayed or not
transmitted to some locations. NOAA has begun addressing false alarms but,
according to agency officials, lacking the states' permission elsewhere, has
only conducted "live" end-to-end testing of the warning systems in Alaska to
The at-risk communities GAO visited have mitigated potential tsunami
impacts through planning, warning system improvements, public education,
and infrastructure protection, but the level of implementation varies
considerably by location. Most of the states and some communities GAO
visited have basic mitigation plans identifying tsunami hazards. While all of
these locations have multiple warning mechanisms in place, disruptions to
key infrastructure such as telephone lines may hamper timely warnings.
Furthermore, key educational efforts, such as distributing evacuation maps
and developing school curricula have not been consistently implemented. In
addition, few states and communities protect critical infrastructure from
tsunamis through land-use and building design restrictions. Emergency
managers attributed variability in their efforts to the need to focus on more
frequent hazards like wildfires and to funding limitations. Furthermore, few
communities participate in NOAA's preparedness program, according to
NOAA officials, because they perceive the threat of a tsunami to be low.
The nationwide expansion of NOAA's tsunami-related activities and NTHMP
is under way; however, the future direction of these efforts is uncertain
because they lack long-range strategic plans. NOAA has yet to identify long-
range goals, establish risk-based priorities, and define performance
measures to assess whether its tsunami-related efforts are achieving the
,United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. U.S. Tsunami Preparedness: Federal and State Partners Collaborate to Help Communities Reduce Potential Impacts, but Significant Challenges Remain, report, June 5, 2006; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc296560/m1/2/: accessed April 26, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.