U.S. Disaster Early-Warning Systems in Danger of Congressional Budget Cuts

Written by Tom Fry on . Posted in Act, The Wonk Room

As hard Congressional decisions continue to unfold for budget cuts across domestic and international programs, it seems like at least one proposed reduction should be off the table: the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s early-warning systems.

Japan’s superior early-warning systems proved just how important these are when disasters like last week’s earthquakes and tsunami happen.

Early-warning systems like those managed by NOAA unquestionably save lives. Yet Congress wants to cut money from our country’s ability to keep abreast of changing natural conditions that have the power to send our highly developed society reeling from disruptive and extreme disasters.

NOAA’s systems are key to assessing risk. And those risk assessments, in turn, are based on a rich and complex mix of research and observation, modeling and forecasting.

While no one in their right mind would intentionally seek to handicap the ability of communities to get out of harm’s way, severe cuts to the foundational science that underpins response capabilities like early-warning systems does just that, albeit indirectly.

As reported in Politico, House Republicans last month approved a $410 million budget cut for NOAA, which runs the National Weather Service. The service operates a nationwide network of weather-monitoring stations intended to provide advance warning for natural disasters, including tsunami-monitoring sites in Alaska and Hawaii.

Another area of potential cuts threatens NOAA’s proposed National Climate Service, which, in many respects can be thought of as a sort of long-range early-warning system. It is designed to provide scientific assistance to farmers, fishery managers, water managers and transportation managers. When it is up and running, it will be positioned to provide local communities with the best available predictive science. It will help inform future assessments of risk.

To find out ways you can take action to protect this funding, which is beneficial to Americans’ human health and survival, economic development, and both “natural” and national security, please visit our Use Your Outside Voice webpage.

Tom Fry is a senior policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy

Photo by TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images. Used under a Creative Commons license (Elderly people look at the extensive damages from the huge tsunami in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture.)

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Comments (2)

  • Julie Motl


    Of all the things to cut funding for, this is the most lucrious. This system is vital to protecting life and property. Please find other areas, like government waste and mismanagement, to balance the budget.
    Thank You


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