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For Immediate Release: Feb 12, 2009
Contact: Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

HAWAII SEISMIC NETWORK STUCK BEHIND SCHEDULE

Promised Tsunami and Earthquake Monitoring System Less than Half Complete


Washington, DC — Despite claims by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration that a vital seismic network in the Hawaiian Islands has been completed, less than half of the promised system is operational, according to a document posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). As a result of the delays, local tsunami warnings are compromised.

In official briefings, NOAA officials tout the Hawaii seismic network upgrade as a top priority and a key element in improving its tsunami warning program and claim that all of the planned monitoring stations are operational. Yet a January 31, 2009 agency status report reveals that:

  • Only “5 of 13 broadband + strong motion stations complete and operational”; and
  • Only “8 of 15 strong motion stations complete and operational”.

The status report concludes that:

“Insufficient staffing, budget uncertainties, and bureaucratic delays have contributed to slow progress. The current situation of responsibility without authority leads to frustration, hampers decision-making, and ultimately endangers the project.”

Among the problems cited are –

  • Allocated funds were spent elsewhere. “A recent inquiry into the matter has shown that much of the allotted $125k FY08 funds vanished”;
  • New hardware but no staff trained to use it. NOAA “purchased expensive, state-of-the-art seismic equipment and processing software, but it did not plan for formal training of its staff to fully realize the new systems’ capabilities”; and
  • Bureaucratic red tape has blocked needed property leases and “communications to acquire data from field sites back to” the central analysis center.

The Hawaiian Islands sit atop one of the most seismically active areas on the globe. The network is supposed to increase the reliability and speed of warnings for tsunamis.

“If this is how NOAA manages a top priority project, imagine the state of its more routine operations,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch whose organization has requested the Commerce Inspector General (NOAA is within the Commerce Department) to investigate. “We are asking the Inspector General to not only look into the missing funds and logistical snafus but also why NOAA brass was telling Congress that the project was completed when it was less than half done.”

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Read the Hawaii seismic network status report

See a June 2008 NOAA PowerPoint claiming that the network was completed in March

View the PEER letter to the Commerce Inspector General