Congressional Republicans' 2011 budget would slash funding for government agencies directly responsible for issuing tsunami warnings and severely reduce the government’s capacity to track and respond to these disasters, the president of the union that represents employees of the National Weather Service told ThinkProgress today in the wake of the tragic tsunami in the Pacific. The House Republican budget, which was rejected by the Senate this week, would have cut funding to NOAA - the agency directly responsible for tsunami monitoring and warning - restricting the government’s ability to respond.
Dan Sobien, the president of National Weather Service Employees Organization, said in a statement to ThinkProgress that while his agency, a subsidiary of NOAA, has made contingency plans, the GOP cuts would "put considerable stress" on the country’s tsunami monitoring and response systems:
NOAA has put together part of a contingency plan to handle such a massive cut and while it spares tsunami buoys, all other coastal buoys are non funded and there will be furloughs at both Tsunami Warning Centers (TWC). These furloughs will take away the TWC’s ability to upgrade tsunami models and will put considerable stress on watchstanders ability to react. This plan unfortunately only account for about half the cuts that need to be made, about 60 of the 126 million that needs to be cut. While today's disaster is of particular concern to everyone, we are just now entering tornado season and soon will be hurricane season and our organization firmly believes any effort to defund and dismantle our nations early warning system for all disasters is very unwise.
These furloughs could result in "a very heightened risk for loss of life," a National Weather Service forecaster told CNBC. Indeed, the GOP's cuts would have a significant impact on the nation’s disaster preparedness:
- $1.2 billion cut in funding for NOAA, the government agency with "primary responsibility for providing tsunami warnings to the nation, and a leadership role in tsunami observations and research."
- $1.5 billion cut in grants for first-responders to disasters of "mass destruction."
- 12 percent cut to Emergency Management Planning Grants, which provide critical funds to help communities conduct "effective catastrophic all-hazards planning."
- Closure of local National Weather Service offices and a furlough of NOAA employees for more than 27 days at a time. The closures would essentially silence the government’s warning system during disasters.
- Cuts in NOAA's satellite maintenance budget, putting satellites out of commission more quickly and crippling the government's ability to track tsunami wave patterns, hurricanes and even routine weather patterns.
- Additional cuts to FEMA and the Coast Guard.
According to a Ocean Conservancy fact sheet obtained by ThinkProgress, at least a third of US GDP is concentrated in weather sensitive industries and the GOP's cuts could leave large sectors of the economy vulnerable to natural disasters. The cuts would also deny daily weather information to more than 30 million Americans, and reduce the military's access to weather information before combat missions.
For now, funding remains in place and agencies have been able to respond properly to today's crisis. Negotiations over the agencies' budget are now taking place in the Senate, where at least one Tea Party senator, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), has argued that federal relief for tsunami victims is unconstitutional.