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American Samoa set to be recognized as “TsunamiReady" in official ceremony

fili@samoanews.com

American Samoa will officially be recognized later this week as a “TsunamiReady” community, with a ceremony set for Sept. 28, one day before the third anniversary of the 2009 tsunami that killed 34 people in the territory.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service will host the ceremony at Utulei Beach where the official designation will be made.  The ceremony will also recognize the hard work by the American Samoa Government, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) team.

It will be attended by Gov. Togiola Tulafono and off-island guests which includes Nancy Ward, Administrator of the FEMA Region IX based in Oakland, Calif.

"The people of American Samoa have shown incredible resilience in the face of the devastating 2009 Tsunami," Ward said yesterday from California in a brief comment through the FEMA public affair’s office. "Their dedication and commitment to participate in this program will undoubtedly help save lives in the future, and is an accomplishment the entire island can be proud of."

The TsunamiReady program is administered by the National Weather Service as a way to increase and strengthen the ability of communities to prepare for, mitigate, and recover from natural hazards, said FEMA whose region office will issue Thursday an official news release on the tsunami anniversary.

A report released September last year by the Western States Seismic Police Council (WSSPC) states in part that the local Department of Homeland Security and its TEMCO agency have taken major strides toward making the territory “TsunamiReady”.

"We are very happy to reach this milestone of receiving the federal TsunamiReady certification, which is the culmination of a lot of hard work by our staff to meet the requirements of the program,” ASDHS director Mike Sala said yesterday responding to Samoa News questions from last Friday.

“No community is 'Tsunami-Proof', but TsunamiReady means our community is better prepared to respond to this type of disaster,” he said. “It is geared to help prevent the loss of life and property, but an important part of the whole program is for our community to be aware of what to do and where to go to be safe in these situations.”

Certifying  American Samoa to TsunamiReady status means “we have met the federal requirements to show we are better prepared to save lives and property in the event of a tsunami through better planning, education and awareness,” according to ASDHS information responding to Samoa News questions. Being designated TsunamiReady, American Samoa now joins 115 other communities in 10 states and territories of the U.S.

“The September 29, 2009 tsunami that devastated low-lying coastal areas of our islands has shown that a large percentage of our population is at-risk, especially with our close proximity to the Tonga Trench and the fact that we are geographically located within the "Ring of Fire" in the Pacific region,” said ASDHS official Fagafaga Daniel Langkilde.

In American Samoa, many schools, the hospital, centers of commerce, government offices, villages, port and airport facilities, and the general population are exposed to the threat of a tsunami, he said.

“The TsunamiReady program has helped our community leaders and emergency managers strengthen our local operations,” said Fagafaga adding that the program was developed by the National Weather Service and funded by the NOAA National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program (NTHMP).

American Samoa's NTHMP grant is for $1 million over three years to develop community warning systems, tsunami evacuation routes and maps, tsunami zone signage and designation of hazard and safe zones, and community planning and education, he said.

He also pointed out that the Territory-wide emergency siren system which was installed following the 2009 tsunami was funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/FEMA with a grant of $3.2 million.

“Being certified TsunamiReady should open up other disaster related federal funding for American Samoa,” said Langkilde.

Sala thanked Mase Akapo and the staff of the local office of the National Weather Service and NOAA, as well as ASG Port Administration and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security/FEMA for their strong support to get American Samoa's TsunamiReady designation.

He also thanked the many local agencies who partnered with ASDHS in this project, which included the Office of Samoan Affairs, the Department of Commerce. The Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources, American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency, ASTCA, ASPA, and the Department of Public Works.

According to the Weather Service many contributed to American Samoa becoming TsunamiReady, including the Army Corps of Engineers, which spent $500,000 to conduct an assessment of the tsunami risk, U.S. Coast Guard and other parts of NOAA that work under the Pacific Risk Management 'Ohana (PRiMO) coordinating body.



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