Little-known fact: The U.S. Geological Survey has an earthquake-warning system called “Shake Alert.”
It's in prototype form and would only warn a select few (including the Los Angeles' Emergency Operations Center) a maximum of 90 seconds before a big one sets off sensors. The general public would not be warned. Yet. It's not much, but it's something.
L.A. state Sen. Alex Padilla wants that kind of system to warn all of us if the big one is coming:
Padilla today announced that he was introduced SB 135 to, in his words, “create a statewide earthquake early warning system” for all Californians.
The project could end up costing $80 million, but the Weekly was told that creative finance solutions would be sought and that the money would not come out of the state's tight general fund.
Padilla's bill would take advantage of the USGS technology that today allows for 60- to 90-second warnings.
Experts explained to the Weekly previously how the system, which currently only applies to the San Andreas Fault, works:
Because the epicenter could be miles away along the San Andreas fault — say in the Salton Sea — we could find out that a quake is happening before it reaches us, essentially.
So it's not a prediction. It's an alarm indicating that a groundswell has started and is on its way.
Padilla today said that expanding the warnings to the public could save lives:
It could allow time to stop a train or power down other critical infrastructure. The earthquake warning would not only alert the public, it would also speed the response of police and fire personnel by quickly identifying areas hardest hit by the quake.
The lawmaker was inspired by a recent Caltech study suggesting that the next “big one” for California could be much larger than imagined: It could be a quake that shakes from San Diego to San Francisco.
It could be, scientists said, a “megaquake.”
California is going to have an earthquake early warning system, the question is whether we have one before or after the next big quake.