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CBS News reports that President Bush has signed a bill to upgrade and modernize the U.S. tsunami warning system, almost two years after the Indian Ocean tsunami (Wikipedia) killed some 230,000 people in a dozen countries.

The legislation (HR 1674), approved by Congress earlier this month, is intended to bolster a tsunami detection and warning system in the Pacific Ocean, as well as expand it to any area in the Atlantic and Caribbean considered at risk by federal officials.

“The Indian Ocean tragedy reminded us of the need to have the best early warning and evacuation plan in place,” said Rep. David Wu, who represents the Pacific coast state of Oregon.

The law authorizes $135 million over five years to increase the number of deep-ocean buoys used to detect potentially devastating waves; requires certification of detection and monitoring equipment; and establishes a federal-state coordinating committee for tsunami detection.

The 680-mile-long Cascadia subduction zone lies off the coasts of Washington and Oregon and is similar in size and geologic character to the fault that caused the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The last major Cascadia quake occurred 300 years ago and hit the West Coast with an estimated 30-foot high ocean surge.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates a 10 percent to 14 percent chance of another major Cascadia quake within the next 50 years. A tsunami generated in the subduction zone or in Washington’s Puget Sound would allow for a warning of less than 20 minutes, which makes tsunami education and efficient evacuation plans essential, Cantwell said.

The Bush administration plans a network of 38 high-tech buoys attached to pressure recorders on the ocean floor. Twenty-five buoys would be added to the six now in the Pacific, including two as back-ups to existing ones off the coast of Alaska.

The new law builds on that plan and requires the National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration to help assess the vulnerability of coastal areas, as well as increase tsunami education and technical training in local communities.

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