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Tsunami Warning System Budget Slashed By Obama Administration On Eve Of Japan Quake Anniversary

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JAPAN TSUNAMI
Cuts to the 2013 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget may endanger the early warning system for tsunamis. Japan's tsunami last year resulted in scores of deaths and widespread destruction. | Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
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Less than a year after a tsunami devastated Japan, killing almost 16,000 people and causing nuclear accidents, the Obama administration is proposing to cut $4.6 million from tsunami early warning and education programs.

The cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's 2013 budget have been fiercely criticized by scientists who say they harm the agency's ability to keep the public safe. The cuts would affect the operation and maintenance of high-tech buoys that can detect tsunamis. Already about 25 percent of NOAA's early warning stations covering the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico are inoperative.

"Reducing support for tsunami warning is like removing the smoke detector or carbon monoxide detector in your house," John Orcutt, a professor of geophysics at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, told the Watchdog. "It's increasing the risk of death and destruction."

Since it's often unclear initially whether an earthquake has created a tsunami or not, the buoys play a crucial role in detecting small increases in the height of waves, Orcutt said. Rough seas have battered many of the buoys and their performance rates were 60 percent down from optimal, according to a 2010 study he conducted for the National Academy of Sciences. "So, when you're having your budget cut, the anticipation is that the level of performance will decrease even further," Orcutt said.

NOAA officials acknowledged that it will take longer to fix broken buoys, further reducing the amount of them that are operational, but insisted that the system is still effective. Four of the 10 inoperative stations are scheduled for maintenance in June, said Susan Buchanan, spokeswoman for the National Weather Service. She also emphasized that computer risk maps and outreach programs bolster the agency's ability to detect tsunamis and warn the public about them.

TSA IS TILTING AT WINDMILLS, SAYS FORMER TOP FBI OFFICIAL

The much maligned Transportation Security Administration's airport screeners are tilting at windmills when it comes to stopping terrorists from pulling off attacks, said a former top FBI official.

Steve Moore, who ran the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force's Al Qaeda squad and whose father was a manager of security for United Airlines, wrote on his blog
"The entire TSA paradigm is flawed. It requires an impossibility for it to succeed."

"For the TSA model to work, every single possible means of causing danger to an aircraft or its passengers must be eliminated," he continued. "This is an impossibility. While passengers are being frisked and digitally strip-searched a few dozen yards away, cooks and dish washers at the local concourse "Chili's' are using and cleaning butcher knives."

Because the TSA is essentially fighting yesterday's war by adopting techniques to thwart methods already attempted by potential terrorists (such as removing shoes at the security checkpoint), the agency needs to adopt less-predictable screening and surveillance methods, Moore said. The agency could reduce the number of screeners by 80 percent by randomly selecting 10 percent of passengers for full-body searches without increasing the risk of an attack.

TODAY'S MUST-READ

The Pentagon spent $580 million a year on "information operations" -- marketing and propaganda operations to win over hostile populations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- without proof that the programs actually work, according to an extensive investigation by USA Today.

QUICK HITS

  • The Food and Drug Administration's top medical device regulator told lawmakers on Tuesday that the agency needs the authority to close a loophole that has been making it hard for regulators to reject new devices based on previous products that were approved but then recalled for safety flaws.
  • Anyone who helped clean up the Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is encouraged to join 10,000 volunteers who have already signed up for a federal study aimed at tracking any physical or mental health conditions they might have developed as a result of their work.
  • Veterans Affairs abruptly cancelled a $102.6 million contract to develop software for an electronic health record system out of concern that the contractor, ASM Research, and its subcontractors may have gained the inside track during bidding thorugh the use of inside nonpublic information, Nextgov reported.

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