Experts: Trump budget would drastically cut isle tsunami protections

Updated: May. 31, 2017 at 8:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - President Trump's proposed budget cuts to tsunami warning systems would put thousands of lives at risk, Hawaii tsunami experts say.

Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the cuts would impact the timeliness and accuracy of tsunami warnings.

The cuts could also force the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center on Oahu to shut down.

The Trump Administration says it wants to consolidate the nation's two tsunami warning centers -- the other in Palmer, Alaska -- to save taxpayer money and eliminate duplication.

But experts say that's just a bad idea.

"If any center has a problem, you have a hot back up. They can step in and perform the duties of the other center," said tsunami expert Gerard Fryer.

Frye, who recently retired from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center, said both centers have just enough employees to perform day to day operations.

The proposal could mean a 60 percent cut in staff.

"That's very frustrating because there are all sorts of new programs, new procedures, new discoveries about how to measure earthquakes faster that we would like to implement, but just don't have the chance to do it," Fryer said.

There are also moves to de-fund detection systems, like deep-ocean buoys and land-based sensors that help provide accurate warnings and gives residents enough time to prepare.

"Especially if its an extreme evacuation, we're talking about moving 300,000 people. A very sizable chunk of the population of the state," Fryer said.

Scientists add eliminating land-based sensors would hamper their ability to measure the size of earthquakes.

They say that could cause unnecessary false alarms and panic because every time there is an earthquake, they would be forced to assume the worst-case scenario and most likely have to issue a tsunami warning.

The Trump Administration says its budget, which was released last week, fulfills the president's promise to put America's security first by investing more in the country's military and border enforcement.

The president's budget director insists the administration is not anti-science, but says these are efficient ways to cut the federal budget.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, disagrees.

"We're talking about saving a few million dollars, but that will make us less safe," he said.

Schatz said there are better ways to save money and he's confident there are enough Republicans across the aisle who understand the importance of tsunami warning systems.

"We're cautiously optimistic that we're going to be able to maintain funding for this critical infrastructure," Schatz said.

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