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Earthquake Warning System Gets Off the Ground With a $5 Million Boost

Earthquake Warning System Gets Off the Ground With a $5 Million Boost
Paso Robles earthquake aftermath via Hey Paul/Flickr

The U.S. Geological Survey has an amazing earthquake-warning system, and it works.

The problem is, the system is still a prototype, and only a precious few people and institutions are privy to the warnings. The issue is cash. Experts say it will take a $38 million upfront investment and $16 million a year in maintenance to get the warnings to the general public.

See also: Earthquake Warning System Is Running in Los Angeles, But Only A Few Are Hooked Up

Geological researchers have complained that if the Big One hit without warning, the funding would materialize the next day. But, until then, it's not popular to spend a lot of taxpayer money on "what if" scenarios. Well, that appears to be changing:

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank announced this week that his proposal to add $5 million in funding for the system to the house's  2015 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill has been approved to move forward.

The legislation would still need to be approved by Congress and signed into law.

Schiff's office said in a statement that this would be "the first time Congress has ever provided funding specifically for the system."

The Shake Alert technology relies on the distance it takes earthquake waves to travel. If a big shaker happened on the San Andreas fault in the Salton Sea it could take 1 minute to hit central Los Angeles, said Hall Daily, director of government relations at Caltech.

See also: Earthquake Warning System Proposed For California By State Sen. Alex Padilla

The system would alert its managers the second the earthquake starts, thus giving them 60 seconds of warning before the actual rumbling arrives. The warnings can actually give a maximum 90 seconds advance notice if the temblors are far enough away. 

Daily said that, with the proper funding, a full-on system could be up-and-running and sending alerts to smartphones in two years. The $5 million would be a start, though. He said Japan's system cost ... a half billion dollars.


The California system, developed by Caltech, the USGS and others, warns the likes of the L.A. Emergency Operations Center, the California Emergency Management Agency, Google (yes, Google), and other first-responders and communications companies.

Schiff's office says the funding would  ...

 ... allow those developing the statewide system to begin purchasing and installing additional sensors, hire new staff members, and come closer to deploying comprehensive early earthquake warning coverage throughout earthquake prone regions of the West Coast.

Schiff says:

It’s critical that the West Coast implement an earthquake early warning system that will give us a heads up before the ‘big one’ hits, so we can save lives and protect infrastructure.

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