A system that can give a maximum 90 seconds of warning in the event of a major earthquake in California is already up-and-running, and it works.
The problem is that the prototype ShakeAlert technology, developed by the U.S. Geological Survey with the help of Pasadena's Caltech and other universities, is a closed network unavailable to the general public.
The main issue is money. It would take millions to get these warnings to your iPhone. As Doug Given, the USGS' National Earthquake Early Warning Coordinator, told us a few years ago, "If there's a big earthquake tomorrow that kills Americans, we'll get the funding."
Well, maybe we won't have to wait for the Big One to get this party started.
As part of its approval of an $1.1 trillion spending bill over the weekend, the U.S. Senate approved $5 million in funding for the Earthquake Early Warning System.
The Democrat-leaning legislation is heading to the desk of President Obama for his signature or veto.
The cash is not going to get us there just yet, but U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein calls it enough to "begin work on an early-warning system."
U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from Burbank, has said that the funding ...
... will 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.
While warnings for all of us are probably years away, the money will jump start the program's transition from what Schiff calls a "demonstration project" to one that has "operational capability."
The current ShakeAlert system uses those sensors Feinstein mentioned to track an earthquake's waves from the epicenter to more populous areas like Los Angeles.
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In a scenario where a quake happened along the San Andreas fault we could get about 45 seconds warning because the shaking would have started but it wouldn't have reached downtown L.A. yet.
The further away the quake is, the more warning we would have before it would reach the coast.
It could give us enough time, experts say, to save lives.