Earthquake Warning System Gets Cash, But It's Not Enough

Earthquake Warning System Gets Cash, But It's Not Enough
File photo of Paso Robles via Hey Paul/Flickr

We've been telling you this for three years now:

The West Coast actually has a rudimentary earthquake warning system that could give us a precious 90 seconds of warning before the Big One arrives. Lives could be saved.

And during those years the federal government, which hands out billions of dollars in foreign aid, has pretty much been sitting on its hands, unable to come up with all the dough needed.

At least U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank has been trying to bring home the bacon. This week he announced that he has secured about $4 million in federal funding for the development of the ShakeAlert system.

Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon are sharing the money.

Though we have early warnings now, they're part of a prototype system that only sends alerts to precious few people, including Caltech and U.S. Geological Survey researchers as well as key contacts at Google, Bay Area Rapid Transit, the city of Los Angeles' Emergency Operations Center and the California Emergency Management Agency.

Those who are creating ShakeAlert want to be able to send the warnings to our smartphones. All of them. That would be cool. And scary.

Schiff's office said in a statement that it would take $38 million "to build out a full system for the West Coast, with annual operating and maintenance costs of $16.1 million."

Today's prototype doesn't predict earthquakes. There's no such thing.

Rather, it beams information about a quake under way before it reaches us. In the case of a rocker on the San Andreas Fault in the desert, we could get as much as a 90-second head start before the ground waves strike downtown L.A.

The likes of Japan and Mexico City have similar systems up and running. 

"The federal government cannot, and will not, fund this system alone," Schiff says. "It’s time for our West Coast state governments and local partners to do their part with matching funding for this invaluable system."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.


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