The government shutdown creating public safety concerns at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center

Local News

It’s now 32 days into the federal government shutdown. People who work at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center are considered essential workers so they have been working without pay.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center alerts the public when there is a tsunami threat. 

Dr. Nathan Becker is an oceanographer and a steward for the National Weather Service Employees Organization. He also works at the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center. He said the tsunami warnings will still go out during the shutdown, but added that completing their mission to protect the public, gets harder with every passing day.

“We’re not going to miss a tsunami, but the quality may be less, impacting more people with a warning. It would take longer to have a cancellation. We may not get a warning out as fast,” Becker explained.

One of the biggest issues– they are not allowed to do routine maintenance.

“(Our technicians) can’t go out and change batteries for example in gear. They have to wait for something to break before they’re actually allowed to touch it.”

That impacts communication between other agencies. Many of those agencies are also furloughed.

“We’re very reliant on data from partners especially the US geological survey. A lot of that seismic data we respond to earthquakes,” said Becker.

It creates a domino effect. Slowing the entire process down.

“All of those things could delay a response because it will just take us longer to give a good quality estimate of the hazard from an earthquake or tsunami.”

Becker said tsunami education has also stopped

“We would like to tell people what to do if there is a tsunami. How to react to warning signs. We’re not allowed to give any of that kind of information” said Becker.

That could create problems for those who don’t know how to identify tsunami warning signs.

In addition to the public safety implications, 32 days without pay is also taking its toll in other ways according to Becker.

He said it’s impacting morale. And he’s afraid workers will quit.

“If our staff aren’t getting paid, and they have to pay bills like everyone else, and they have to seek other employment, That’s kind of scary. If we start shrinking the workforce, there will be fewer people to perform this work,” Becker explained.

He said they are already understaffed, and they can’t hire anyone new during the shutdown.

Tsunami safety information can be found online on the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center website.

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