Legislators ask California for $23M for Earthquake Early Warning System (Pasadena Star-News)

Three state lawmakers introduced bills Monday that would direct $23 million in state funds toward an Earthquake Early Warning system being developed for the West Coast.

The concurrent legislation in both the Assembly and the state Senate would fund California’s portion of the $38 million ShakeAlert system that experts say could offer more than a minute warning before a temblor reaches a community. The system could slow trains, stop elevators at the nearest floor and give people a chance to take cover.

“We should have done this many years ago,” said Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. “It’s a low dollar investment for a major benefit.”


Hill, along with Senator Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, and Assemblyman Adam Gray, D-Merced, introduced the bills, SB 438 and AB 1346, on Monday.


The legislators said California is expected to end the next fiscal year with a reserve of $11.5 billion, making the investment only a small fraction of that overall budget. The bills strike language from an earlier law that prohibited using general fund dollars to develop the warning system.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates that California accounts for $3.5 billion, or 66 percent, of the nationwide annual losses from earthquakes.


Hill said he hopes the initial funding will attract more private-public partnerships to pay for the ongoing operational costs estimated at $16 million a year. California’s annual cost is roughly $12 million of that total.


U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, who has helped bring-in roughly $13 million in federal funding for the system in the last few years, said he was delighted to see California stepping up, as the federal government “cannot and should not do it on its own.”


“None of us know how much time we have before the next big earthquake, but we just took a substantial step forward in getting this done in time to use it when we need it,” Schiff said.


The U.S. Geological Survey, which operates the ShakeAlert early warning system, believes that California in the next 30 years has a 99.7 percent chance of having a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake. USGS partners with Caltech in Southern California.


“We’ve been working on this very actively for the last five or 10 years,” said Hall Daily, Caltech’s Director of Government Affairs. “If this passes, obviously it moves the whole project forward very positively, there’s no question about that.”


The early warning system exists in a prototype version now, but the coverage is mostly focused around Southern California and the San Francisco Bay Area. Only about a third of the seismic stations needed for ShakeAlert exist today, according to Dan Given, earthquake early warning coordinator for USGS. Current test users include Los Angeles County Fire, LA City Office of Emergency Management, Disneyland, Metrolink, Caltrans and LA Department of Water and Power.


“Early warning is not prediction, it is detecting the earthquake after it begins, but doing it so fast that you can send alerts before the strong shaking arrives,” Given said.


The early warning system could send out public alerts within two years of receiving funding, he said. Most of the funds received to date, from non-profits and the private sector, have funded research at Caltech, UC Berkeley and the University of Washington, rather than building out the system.

Source: Pasadena Star News