Critical Tsunami Warning System Inoperative for Days

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For Immediate Release:  Tuesday, March 16, 2021
Contact:  Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028: Kirsten Stade

Critical Tsunami Warning System Inoperative for Days

NOAA Scientists Ordered Not to Discuss DART Outages on Social Media


Washington, DC — Our main ocean-based tsunami system has been completely inoperative since last Tuesday, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Rather than disclose the problem,  the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has directed agency scientists to avoid discussing the crippling outage on social media.

NOAA’s Deep Ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART) is a network of anchored buoy stations covering the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA claims the “DART network serves as the cornerstone of the U.S. tsunami warning system.”

A burst water main inside NOAA’s Silver Spring, Maryland Headquarters knocked out the transmission of all DART data on March 8 at 1800 GMT.  The event has also caused severe damage to agency equipment. It is not clear when data transmission will resume.

“The total loss of the DART network seriously compromises the effectiveness of our tsunami public safety net, where every second of advance warning saves lives, ” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, noting that in the past decade, tsunamis have killed more people than almost every other natural hazard combined.  “NOAA’s lack of a backup transmission system is a major failure in its preparedness planning.”

NOAA has no backup system for this transmission system.   This latest breakdown is one of several equipment and maintenance failures cited by NOAA scientists inside the National Weather Service (NWS) as hindering operations.

Michael Angove, NOAA’s Tsunami Program Lead, put out the word that staff should “avoid discussing the ongoing DART outages on social media,” according to one widely circulated NOAA email.  Yet, posts on the National Weather Service Employee Organization Facebook
page reflect consternation and dismay from affected scientists, with messages, such as –

  • “How much longer do we have to endure with a total lack of IT infrastructure and backup capabilities throughout the NWS.”
  • “Over the past 2-3 years, have we gone one day without some major outage somewhere? …I am beyond frustrated.”
  • “How many times have I or someone with me preached to an EM [Emergency Manager] …seeking Stormready recognition  NOT TO HAVE A SINGLE POINT OF FAILURE…Could we certify OURSELVES Stormready?! I honestly can’t answer that question with confidence.” (Emphasis in original)

“Rather than sweep this debacle under the rug, Congress should begin a major review of NOAA’s operational capacity,” added Ruch, pointing out that March also marks the ten-year anniversary of the Fukushima/Tohuku earthquake and tsunami, which resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives and caused a nuclear core meltdown.  “This incident should prompt an in-depth examination of the state of our tsunami readiness.”

Each DART buoy sends acoustic signals from a transmitter anchored on the sea floor to a surface buoy. As a tsunami moves across the ocean, the DART reports bottom pressure changes in the entire column of water above. These open ocean readings provide NOAA’s Tsunami Warning Centers with “data critical to real-time forecast” for “early detection of tsunamis” to enable more accurate watches, warnings and, if needed, evacuations, according to NOAA.



View the DART network
Look at NOAA’s Stormready program

See lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima/Tohuku quake

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