10.28.15

Thirty-Six Members of Congress Urge Administration to Robustly Fund Earthquake Early Warning System

Washington, D.C. – Today, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Derek Kilmer (D-WA), along with 34 Members of Congress, urged President Obama and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, to increase the funding level for earthquake hazards programs in their 2017 budget request and more specifically, to provide $16.1 million dollars in funding for an on-shore Earthquake Early Warning System being developed by scientists in Southern California and along the West Coast.  Such an early warning system would be enormously helpful in providing residents and first responders with advance notice that could help save lives, avoid injuries, and avert major infrastructure damage by slowing trains to prevent derailment, stopping elevators, pausing surgeries and taking other actions in the event of a major earthquake.

In the letter, the Members write: “While we appreciate past investments in earthquake programs and recognize the inclusion of EEW in your FY2016 Budget, full funding of EEW is critical. Therefore, we urge you to request in your FY2017 Budget $16.1 million for the development of this system so that the West Coast will be prepared for the next catastrophic earthquake. This is proven technology that will save lives and reduce the economic impact of an earthquake; it simply needs to be properly funded.”

Congress has recognized the critical need for implementation of an Earthquake Early Warning System and provided funding for its development and implementation along the western coast of the United States in providing funding for the system for the previous two fiscal years. 

Rep. Schiff, who helped secure the funding in both FY 2015 and 2016 for a west coast earthquake early warning system in Congress, commented: “I am encouraged that the support for the west coast Earthquake Early Warning System is growing. Every day, we are one day closer to the inevitable ‘big one,’ and this technology, once implemented, will be an invaluable tool to save lives and property.”

Kilmer commented: “We are pushing the President to make this project a top priority because it’s important to the future of the communities we represent on the West Coast. We need an updated and operational Earthquake Early Warning System to serve as eyes and ears and give folks more time if a large quake strikes.”

“Earthquake early warning is everyone’s concern,” said Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum, “and we are very fortunate to have Adam Schiff’s strong support  for moving a west coast warning system closer to implementation.”

“The University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network appreciate the strong support of Congress in securing funding to help this important work to continue. Earthquake Early Warning is invaluable to protect the millions of Americans living and working across the Pacific Northwest,” said John Vidale, the Director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “Additional funding will help deploy this system across the region and give individuals from 30 seconds to five minutes of warning for many dangerous earthquake to find cover, ready emergency response, secure data and assets, and prepare for approaching earthquake shaking. We thank Congressman Kilmer for his many years of efforts to increase EEW funding.”

Schiff and Kilmer were joined by Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-CA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), Lois Capps (D-CA), Tony Cárdenas (D-CA), Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Judy Chu (D-CA), Jim Costa (D-CA), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Sam Farr (D-CA), John Garamendi (D-CA), Mike Honda (D-CA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Ted Lieu (D-CA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Scott Peters (D-CA), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Raul Ruiz (D-CA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Mark Takano (D-CA), Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Maxine Waters (D-CA).

Full text of the letter is below: 

President Barack Obama

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

As you prepare your Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Budget for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), we strongly urge you to request increased funding for USGS’s earthquake-related programs, including $16.1 million for the development and operation of an on-shore West Coast Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) System.

Earthquake Early Warning is proven technology that is already fully operational in countries including Japan and Mexico. USGS, in conjunction with the California Institute of Technology; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Washington; and the University of Oregon, is currently working to adapt the technology and has developed an on-shore prototype system for test users along the West Coast. The researchers are also working closely with key stakeholders, including the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in San Francisco and Boeing and Microsoft in the Pacific Northwest, to test and provide feedback on what will be a very valuable system.

The 2014 magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California that caused an estimated $300 million in damages is just one reminder of how important it is that the United States has a robust Earthquake Early Warning system.  More recently, national media[1] has reported on the prospects of a magnitude 9 earthquake in the Pacific Northwest and the utility of a warning system. When such an event occurs, it will be one of the most serious disasters the United States has faced. Once fully operational, EEW will provide critical time—from a few seconds to minutes—to take protective action. In fact, the Puget Sound and Portland would receive 1 to 5 minutes of warning—warning that will save lives.

Even with just seconds of warning before shaking begins, automated steps can be taken to prevent casualties and mitigate destruction, including slowing or stopping trains; turning off oil and natural gas pipelines; shutting down large manufacturing equipment; stopping elevators and opening their doors; and securing sensitive computer data.

The effectiveness of EEW depends on the number and placement of sensors to ensure that there is adequate coverage wherever an earthquake may hit—and this requires additional resources. Congress recognizes the value of this system and has demonstrated its commitment to providing additional resources for EEW by including funding in the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act and continued funding support in the House and Senate FY2016 Interior Appropriations bills.

While we appreciate past investments in earthquake programs and recognize the inclusion of EEW in your FY2016 Budget, full funding of EEW is critical. Therefore, we urge you to request in your FY2017 Budget $16.1 million for the development of this system so that the West Coast will be prepared for the next catastrophic earthquake. It is important, however, that this EEW funding does not detract from other earthquake hazards programs, as this research works hand-in-hand with the EEW. This is proven technology that will save lives and reduce the economic impact of an earthquake; it simply needs to be properly funded.

Thank you for considering our request. 

Sincerely,