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September 29, 2006

Report: Better Hurricane Research Needed

By JENNIFER KAY, Associated Press Writer

MIAMI - Hurricanes cost taxpayers billions of dollars, but the government has not invested enough money in understanding them, according to a federal report released Friday that calls for more coordinated research.

The National Science Board's draft report, "Hurricane Warning: The Critical Need for a National Hurricane Research Initiative," recommends a streamlined, multiagency effort to improve hurricane science and engineering research, along with about $300 million a year in additional funds.

"We urgently need a determined effort to maximize our understanding of hurricanes and ensure the effective application of science and engineering outcomes for the protection of life and property," the report states.

Hurricane-related losses in the U.S. totaled $168 billion in the last two hurricane seasons, and 1,450 storm-related deaths were reported, according to the report.

Meanwhile, annual funding for the government's "focal point" for storm analysis, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hurricane Research Division, has never exceeded $5.1 million, and its staff has declined by 30 percent in the past decade, the report states.

The science board's analysis determined that most hurricane-related funding is focused on short-term forecasting efforts, with less than 2 percent aimed at improving structural design and engineering for buildings.

NOAA officials did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.

Along with the report, Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., was introducing legislation to enact its recommendations. The proposed legislation would put NOAA and the        National Science Foundation in charge of coordinating the research initiative, and appropriate $435 million a year for its projects through 2017.

Its highest priority would be predicting hurricane size and intensification, where landfall would be and the severity of storm surge and storm-related rainfall and flooding.

"Given the enormous cost associated with hurricanes, we ought to better coordinate research and information about hurricane prediction, observation, the vulnerability of structures and how we might develop better evacuation plans," Martinez said.

The initiative would link research models from various scientific fields to understand the complexities of hurricanes, and would establish a National Infrastructure Database to develop engineering standards and quantify structural losses.

The National Science Board is an independent advisory body to the president and Congress on national science and engineering policy. It also oversees the National Science Foundation.

On the Net:

National Science Board: http://www.nsf.gov/nsb/