Major Funding Brings Closer Early Earthquake Warning System

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         File courtesy of Caltech Congress allocated $8.2 million toward the early earthquake warning system, which seismologists say could provide significant notice of incoming quakes.

File courtesy of Caltech
Congress allocated $8.2 million toward the early earthquake warning system, which seismologists say could provide significant notice of incoming quakes.

By Jason KUROSU

Last week, Congress allocated $8.2 million toward the early earthquake warning system, which seismologists say could provide significant notice of incoming quakes along the western United States.

The early warning system has been operating since 2008, a collaborative effort between the United States Geological Survey, Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon.

Currently in its testing phase, the full system is intended to send up-to-date information to the public, notifying when and with what intensity incoming quakes will strike, according to the USGS.

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) announced the latest funding allocation Thursday, which his office said exceeds the $5 million proposed earlier this year by President Obama for the fiscal year 2016 budget.

“By increasing the funding for the West Coast Earthquake Early Warning System, Congress is sending a message to the western states that it supports this life saving system,” Schiff said in a statement, calling it “a great victory for California and the West Coast.”

However, he indicated that more financial assistance would be needed from local stakeholders to make the early warning system a viable preventive measure.

It will cost an estimated $38.2 million to build a full system through California, Oregon and Washington, and $16.2 million in annual maintenance and operational costs.

ShakeAlert, a prototype system involving ground motion sensors along the west coast, has been sending live alerts on earthquake activity since 2012. Scientists continue to assess and beta test the effectiveness of the system, until it can be expanded to a wider portion of the population, particularly for areas with the greatest risk for seismic events.

Doug Given, the USGS Early Earthquake Warning coordinator and project chief for Southern California Earthquake Monitoring, said the system would broaden to transmitting alerts to emergency responders before there could be a feasible expansion to the general public. Improvements to preventive infrastructure and effective public outreach on the expectations of the system would follow, Given said.

The alerts would also provide notice to prevent subsequent hazards that develop after a quake hits.

“The Early Warning System will give us critical time for trains to be slowed and surgeries to be stopped before shaking hits – saving lives and protecting infrastructure. This Early Warning System is an investment we need to make now, not after the ‘big one’ hits,” said Schiff.

Early earthquake warning systems are being implemented or developed in several nations, though none as comprehensive as Japan’s, in operation since 2006.

The ShakeAlert system utilizes about 400 ground motion sensors, according to the USGS, a preliminary framework, but with thousands fewer sensors than Japan’s system, which covers less land.

Prior to any expansion of the U.S. system, further testing will be conducted on ShakeAlert’s reliability, and research into the system’s infrastructural and economic impacts, according to the USGS.

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