Aug. 18, 2006 – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is wrapping up work on a tsunami early warning system for the Caribbean. By April, the federal agency had installed five buoys in the Caribbean and Atlantic regions, including two north of Puerto Rico. The buoys are also located off New Orleans, Charleston, S. C. and Miami, Fla.
The buoys are part of a Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis System- DART for short. DART systems consist of an anchored seafloor bottom pressure recorder (BPR) and a companion moored surface buoy for real-time communications, according to the NOAA Web site. When a potential event is detected the system transmits data via satellite to NOAA ground stations, which in turn transmit the warning to NOAA's Tsunami Warning Centers
NOAA is now concluding work on tide gauges located in Charlotte Amalie and Limetree Bay on St. Thomas and Lameshur Bay on St. John. The gauges contribute to the early warning system as well as provide tide information for other purposes.
NOAA spokesman Theresa Eisenman said that the one recently installed at Lameshur Bay is still in the quality assurance mode.
"It's not quite up and running," she said.
NOAA administrator retired Vice-Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher said in a news release that the agency has made important strides in enhancing the communication network to let people know if a tsunami is on the way.
"These buoys are a first line of defense in providing citizens of the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf regions with a comprehensive tsunami warning system," he said.
He said the agency expects to put two more DART buoys in place for the Caribbean, Gulf and Atlantic region by 2007. It will have 32 DART buoys in the Pacific region.
Eisenman said the information from the tsunami buoys goes to NOAA's Tsunami Warning Center in either Hawaii or Alaska. Those locations have staff on duty round the clock seven days a week.
She said that information is then forward to emergency officials in the Virgin Islands.
V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency Director Howard Baker said that the agency is pushing to put in place a system to alert residents that a tsunami is on the way.
He said the alert will be sent to radio and television stations, with emergency vehicles heading out to remote areas to alert residents via speakers.
Baker also said that he's working on a siren system to audibly warn residents that a tsunami is headed toward the territory.
When asked when it would be on line, he said didn't have a definite answer.
"I wish I could say tomorrow. It's past due," he said.
He said VITEMA is also pushing for the establishment of marked tsunami evacuation routes.
Baker urged residents to head uphill when they think a tsunami may be on the way rather than linger at the shoreline to watch its approach.
He said if residents are driving along a road with no side roads leading uphill, like St. John's North Shore Road, they should get out of their car and run up hill.
"If you don't know where to go, follow the mongoose or the iguana," he said, noting that these animals will head uphill when a tsunami is on the way.
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