[Congressional Record (Bound Edition), Volume 146 (2000), Part 15]
[Page 21261]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov]

[[Page 21261]]

                       THE HAZARD SUPPORT SYSTEM

  Mr. AKAKA. Mr. President, Benjamin Franklin once described how ``for 
want of nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; 
and for want of a horse the rider was lost.''

  I wish to call the Senate's attention today to a similar situation. 
For $13 million, we could help prevent hundreds of millions of dollars 
in losses from forest fires.
  This case involves a Federal program which can help detect wild fires 
and volcanic activity from space. It is a small program that has been 
in a pilot phase for a couple of years but which is now operational. 
Except it is not operating. It stopped when funding for it ended on 
September 30, 2000. Unfortunately, funds to keep it going have not been 
authorized or appropriated for the next fiscal year.
  The program, which only recently came to my attention, is called the 
Hazard Support System. It is operated by the United States Geological 
Survey (USGS) and is a forceful example of how today's modern 
technologies can be employed to the benefit of us all.
  For several years, our fire and volcanic agencies have been working 
with the Department of Defense to realize the potential dual use of the 
nation's ballistic missile warning satellites to argument existing fire 
detection and suppression capabilities and to monitor global volcanic 
  We have heard a great deal about fires over the past few months. On 
average there about 100,000 wildland fires in the United States each 
year, destroying millions of acres of timber, rangeland, and homes at 
the cost of hundred of millions of dollars. In 1994, federal fire 
suppression cost $920 million.
  Here is a system--the Hazard Support System--which can detect fires 
of less than a quarter acre in size and dispatch warnings via the 
Internet to fire fighters in five minutes, saving potentially millions 
of dollars--not to mention people's homes--and it is not being funded.
  The system's utility is not limited to forest fires but also can be 
used to detect volcanic eruptions and to track ash clouds.
  One can ask why should we care about tracking ash clouds?
  Imagine cruising through an ash cloud in a airplane at 30,000 feet 
above Alaska: volcanic ash is sucked into the jet's engines where it 
instantly melts, coating the inside of the engines, cutting off the 
flow of oxygen, and causing the engines to stall. The plane drops to 
10,000 feet where the engines restart only because the rapid descent 
has dislodged the ash crust. This actually happened to an aircraft in 
  Jet radars and weather satellites cannot detect ash clouds. To these 
systems, ash looks like water vapor. With ash from volcanic explosions 
traveling around the world at high altitudes, we cannot fly safely 
unless we have the ability to track these clouds. Every year about 10 
volcanic eruptions penetrate the altitude range of air traffic. Seven 
passenger airliners have experienced engine power losses, and plane 
repair and replacement costs, as of 1994, exceeded $200 million.
  Most of the world's volcanoes can erupt without warning. There is no 
global volcano monitoring capability. Currently, less than half of 
America's 65 potentially active volcanoes are monitored for signs of 
activity--but not their ash clouds. We have active volcanoes in Alaska, 
Washington, Oregon, California, and Hawaii. Most of the volcanoes in 
the Aleutian Islands are active but, along this major international 
airline route, only 10 percent of these volcanoes are monitored. Only 
10 percent of the world's 1,500 potentially active volcanoes are under 
constant surveillance.
  The USGS' Hazard Support System fuses the fire- and volcanic-activity 
detection capabilities of the world's environmental weather satellites 
with that of our ballistic missile warning satellites--without 
affecting their primary national security mission--to provide 24-hour 
worldwide detection.
  The cost of this system for its first year would be $13.5 million and 
$5 million thereafter. The benefits of this program for states in the 
Western part of the United States are obvious. I have been assured by 
the Administration that the only reason funding for this program was 
not requested for the next fiscal year was because, at the time of the 
budget preparation, the system was not yet operational. It is now 
operational and proven.
  I intend to seek funding for a small program with a huge return in 
protecting Americans from future forest fires and the danger of 
catastrophic airline crashes. I would urge my colleagues to join me in 
support of this program.