Feinstein, Schiff Announce Major New Funding for West Coast Earthquake Early Warning System in President's Budget

Washington, DC – Today, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) announced that President Obama had included $5 million for the West Coast Earthquake Early Warning system in his Fiscal Year 2016 budget released this week.  This is the first time that the President has requested a specific funding amount in his budget, thereby recognizing the importance of the West Coast Earthquake Early Warning System. The Earthquake Early Warning system is being developed by Caltech, UC-Berkeley and the University of Washington in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey. It can provide users with seconds to even a minute or more of warning before shaking hits, depending on the distance to the epicenter. A limited system already been deployed for test users has proved that the early warning technology is sound.

“A fully-built out West Coast earthquake early warning system is critical to saving lives and protecting infrastructure by giving us a heads up before the next ‘big one’ hits,” said Rep. Schiff. “By including an additional $5 million in funding from last year’s initial federal investment, President Obama is acknowledging that this is something that cannot wait any longer. We couldn’t agree more. Through the appropriations process, we will work to make sure that we secure this additional funding, so residents have a critical advanced warning to seek cover, automatically slow or stop trains, pause surgeries and more.

“The next West Coast earthquake is a question of when, not if, and an earthquake early-warning system is necessary to save lives, reduce property damage and protect critical infrastructure,” said Senator Feinstein. “The Obama administration has now expressed its support for this project by requesting additional funds to build it. I will work with my fellow West Coast senators and representatives this year to secure federal funds and hope to see the state and private sector step up and contribute their fair share.” 

In December 2014, Congress passed a funding bill for FY2015 which included an additional $5 million specifically for the Earthquake Early Warning system, bringing the total funding for the system for FY2015 to $6.5 million. This was the first time Congress included funds specifically allocated for the system in a spending bill. That $5 million in funding allowed those developing the statewide system to begin purchasing and installing additional sensors, build new stations, speed up the ShakeAlert system, and come closer to deploying comprehensive early earthquake warning coverage throughout earthquake prone regions of the West Coast. 

In October 2014, Senator Feinstein and Rep. Schiff were joined by 35 other members of Congress in sending a letter to the President urging him to provide funding for an earthquake early warning system in his FY2016 budget request. Schiff and Feinstein are pleased that President’s budget, for the first time, allocated funds specifically for the system and overall funding for the system was increased.  In the letter, the Senators and Members wrote:

As you prepare your Fiscal Year 2016 Budget for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), we strongly urge you to request increased funding for USGS’s earthquake-related programs, including an additional $16.1 million for the development and operation of a West Coast Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) System.

After the recent magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California that killed one person, injured more than 300 people, and caused an estimated $300 million in damages, as well as the September magnitude 4.0 earthquake that struck the Puget Sound region, we are once again reminded of how important it is that the United States has a robust earthquake early warning system.

Earthquake Early Warning is proven technology that is already fully operational in countries like 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 for the West Coast of the United States and has developed a prototype system for test users along the West Coast.

During the earthquake in Napa County, test users at UC Berkeley received ten seconds of warning, and those in San Francisco and San Jose received even more. This is enough warning to take steps necessary to prevent casualties and mitigate destruction, including slowing or stopping trains and cars; turning off supplies of oil, natural gas, and chemicals; securing large manufacturing equipment; stopping elevators and opening their doors; and securing sensitive computer data.

The effectiveness of EEW largely 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 additional funding in the House and Senate Fiscal Year 2015 Interior Appropriations bills.

Therefore, we urge you to request in your Budget at least an additional $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.

That letter can be found here.