This week, Rep. Adam Schiff with Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer urged President Obama and the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to provide the highest possible funding level for earthquake hazards programs in their 2015 budget request – most specifically, additional funding for an earthquake early warning system being developed by scientists in Southern California and along the West Coast. Over the past several years, some in Congress and the Administration have targeted the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program for budget cuts – including the early warning system. For prototypes like the U.S. Geological Survey’s “Shake Alert,” which was partially designed by the USGS in Pasadena, budget constraints have slowed its implementation. Such an early warning system is touted as being “enormously helpful’ in providing residents and first responders with advance notice that could help avert major infrastructure damage by shutting down mechanical systems like mass transit and elevators, as well as reducing injuries and saving lives in the event of a major earthquake.
In the letter, the senators and members write: “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.”
Earlier this year, Senator Feinstein and Rep. Schiff were able to secure $5 million, for the first time, in initial funding toward further development of the system. As they stated in an op-ed piece, “In the current political climate, funding is never guaranteed, and we will redouble our efforts to secure funds before the end of this session of Congress.” The House and Senate are expected to take up appropriations measures during the lame duck session in November and December.
“Every few months, we are reminded about the West Coast’s vulnerability with tremors and small earthquakes rattling our homes and businesses. It’s absolutely critical that the U.S. maintains its vigilance and expertise in earthquake preparedness – and this funding would help us on that road. I’m very hopeful that when the House and Senate meet to work out the appropriations issues, we will be able to secure final funding for this vital program,” said Rep. Schiff. “When we consider the lives that would be spared if we have just a little bit of warning before the next big one, it’s a very small but prudent investment.”
Schiff, Feinstein and Boxer were joined by Senators Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden, Patty Murray, and Maria Cantwell, as well as 30 members.
The full letter is below:
“Dear President Obama:
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 10 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.
Thank you for considering our request.”