Initial Response to Post-Storm Assessment Requirements

GAO-13-559R: Published: Jul 11, 2013. Publicly Released: Jul 11, 2013.

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Anne-Marie Lasowski Fennell
(202) 512-3841


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What GAO Found

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in consultation with the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology (OFCM) and other agencies, has identified federal and nonfederal storm data collection efforts that may provide the covered data--specified in the act to include wind speeds, storm surge, and other measures--for a post-storm model required by the Consumer Option for an Alternative System to Allocate Losses Act of 2012 (COASTAL Act). However, NOAA officials said they will not know which specific data collection efforts will be used until they develop the model, which the act requires NOAA develop by regulation by December 28, 2013. According to agency officials and representatives from nonfederal entities, such as a university and a nonprofit organization, efforts that can collect surface level water, wave, and wind measurements over land will likely provide important sources of data. NOAA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), as well as some nonfederal entities, such as universities and private companies, currently collect some surface level data on wind and water. However officials and representatives from the agencies and nonfederal entities, respectively, said current efforts may not be sufficient for the model to achieve the highly accurate estimates needed for individual structures in all locations. For example, USGS officials said they may not have enough mobile, temporary water level sensors to deploy in locations along the Atlantic Coast for measuring storm tide. Moreover, current efforts do not measure certain data that likely will be needed to model wind and water impacts on individual structures. In particular, data on waves that occur over land on top of the storm surge are critical for assessing water damage to structures from tropical storms and hurricanes but are not currently collected.

The selected agencies GAO reviewed--NOAA and USGS--do not typically collect cost information on specific types of storm or weather data, such as wind speed, that reflects the expense for all activities involved in collecting and using the data. NOAA and USGS officials said that their storm data collection efforts typically collect multiple types of storm or weather data and that the costs for processing, analyzing, and storing the data are calculated for all data types rather than a single one. Agencies then incorporate the cost information they do collect on their storm data collection efforts into the costs of major programs and projects, such as activities related to responding to a major hurricane. For example, USGS officials said that they collected detailed cost information on activities related to collecting data on storm tide, barometric pressure, and high water mark levels during Hurricane Sandy.

Why GAO Did This Study

The COASTAL Act requires NOAA to generate post-storm assessments within 90 days of certain tropical storms or hurricanes. To generate the assessments, NOAA is required to develop a post-storm model that replicates wind speeds, storm surge heights, and other measurements for these storms. NOAA, in consultation with OFCM, also is to identify federal and state efforts, as well as domestic private and academic efforts, that are capable of collecting the weather data (i.e., covered data) necessary to develop the post-storm model and assessment, evaluate their coverage gaps, and report to Congress a plan for collecting the covered data.

The act mandates GAO to audit federal efforts to collect covered data. During this review, NOAA was still in the process of developing the post-storm model and determining which data collection efforts would be required. GAO determined that this review would examine (1) storm data collection efforts that NOAA has identified that may provide the covered data for the COASTAL Act storm model and (2) the extent to which selected federal agencies collect cost information on their storm data collection efforts.

GAO reviewed agency documents and COASTAL Act planning documents from an interagency work group. GAO interviewed officials from NOAA, OFCM, USGS, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Coast Guard. GAO also interviewed representatives from a university, a nonprofit organization, and a private company identified in COASTAL Act planning documents and during agency interviews.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is not making any recommendations. GAO provided a draft to the agencies reviewed for comment. Commerce and the Interior provided technical comments, which were incorporated into the report as appropriate. The other agencies reviewed had no comments.

For more information, contact Anne-Marie Fennell at (202) 512-3841 or

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