U.S. Needs to Catch Up on Earthquake Early Warning System

While the United States is the most technologically advanced country in the world, we still lag dangerously behind other countries in implementing one key technology that can save lives, property and infrastructure—an early earthquake warning system.

Imagine getting a warning a few seconds or up to a minute before an earthquake hits.

It might sound like science fiction, but the technology exists, and we’ve fallen behind other earthquake-prone countries like Japan and Mexico that already have already put into place public earthquake early warning systems.


The U.S. has only begun to invest in one and we may be in a race against time. Such a system has been in development for years now created by Caltech, UC Berkeley and the University of Washington, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey. Test users along the west coast have been successfully receiving warnings.


And while a few seconds to a minute depending on your distance to the epicenter might not seem like much, it’s enough for people to take cover; for trains to slow down or stop; for doctors to halt surgeries and automated systems to shut down.


The stumbling block—as it often is in government these days—is funding. It’s no surprise that for a full West Coast system, the effectiveness and reliability of the warning largely depends on the number and placement of the sensors to ensure that there is adequate coverage wherever an earthquake may hit.


It is estimated that the system would cost about $38 million to build along the west coast, with $16.1 million a year in operating and maintenance costs. This may seem like an exorbitant sum, but with earthquakes costing the U.S. an average of $5.3 billion a year, and $3.5 billion in California alone, this comparatively small investment is well worth the cost.


Even in a budget-conscious Congress, we’ve had some success. Working with Senator Diane Feinstein, I was able to secure $5 million specifically for this system last year in the annual full-year funding bill that passed last December. But it’s not going to be enough.


That’s why we have been pressing the White House and our colleagues to prioritize this funding for future years, as well. Just last month, President Obama heard our calls and included another $5 million in funding for the system in his budget—the first time the president has ever made such a funding request.


This federal investment cannot be the only source: Western states with the most to lose from an earthquake need to step up. For example, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 135, legislation that called for a statewide early warning system, but did not provide any of the state funds needed for it. It’s imperative that state and private organizations do their part, just as the federal government has.


There’s no doubt that the “big one” will hit California and the west coast sometime in the future. The only question is when and where. Let’s ensure we are prepared.


Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) represents the 28th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Los Feliz, Hollywood, Silver Lake, Echo Park and the surrounding communities.

Source: Los Feliz Ledger