USGS awards $4 million to earthquake early warning system on the West Coast
PASADENA >> The U.S. Geological Survey has awarded $4 million to help push ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning system, closer to becoming a functioning $38.2 million network on the West Coast.
Since the early 2000s, the project has received $21 million or about 55 percent of the amount necessary to build out earthquake early warning infrastructure in California and the Pacific Northwest, said Thomas Heaton, Caltech professor of engineering seismology and director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory.
“The system is designed to provide an alert that shaking is on its way and provide information about how strong the shaking will be when it gets there, so some actions can be taken based on the alert,” Heaton said. “The system certainly wouldn’t protect you from all earthquake hazards. It’s just a new type of tool.”
The USGS last week announced it awarded about $4 million to four universities: Caltech, UC Berkeley, University of Washington and University of Oregon. The science organization also has spent some $1 million to purchase new sensor equipment for the project, USGS said.
Since January 2012, the beta ShakeAlert network has been sending seconds to minutes of warning before strong shaking arrives to early adopters, according to the ShakeAlert website. The amount of tip-off time depends on the system’s speed and an individual’s distance from the epicenter. ShakeAlert does not predict earthquakes, but it could help people and policymakers prepare for temblors when they happen.
Even a few seconds could give people time to turn off stoves, dentists a chance to stop delicate procedures and emergency responders an opportunity to open firehouse doors so they aren’t stuck inside after the shaking ceases. Possible automated responses include the slowing or stopping of trains to prevent derailment and having elevator doors open.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, helped secure government money for the project in fiscal year 2015 and 2016 but said the project won’t take off unless West Coast state governments and local partners help fund the system.
“It is critical that the West Coast implement an earthquake early warning system that will give us a heads up before the ‘big one’ hits, so we can save lives and protect infrastructure,” he said in a statement. “We are constantly reminded of our vulnerability — with tremors, earthquakes and aftershocks rattling our homes and businesses.”
The earthquake early warning system has estimated operating and maintenance costs of $16.1 million annually, Schiff said.
The new USGS funding will allow 20 new sensors to be added to the California Integrated Seismic Network, a source of data for ShakeAlert. It will provide more concentrated coverage and thus will lengthen warning times, said Egill Hauksson, a Caltech professor and one of the principal investigators on the ShakeAlert project.
The demonstration system was written, developed and operated at three universities, including Caltech. But for ShakeAlert to become fully operational, it cannot continue to be maintained at higher education institutions, Heaton said. The new funds will go toward moving operations to the USGS and will allow participating universities to develop new algorithms and software to support a faster and more reliable system, he added.
By: Zen Vuong
Source: Pasadena Star News
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