California Governor Asks Legislature for Earthquake Warning System Funding

Other countries, like Japan and Mexico, rely on earthquake early warning systems, but the United States — namely California — has been slower to fully fund and adopt the potentially life-saving technology.

by / May 20, 2016
Buildings and infrastructure were damaged in the city of Napa during a 6.0 magnitude earthquake in 2014. Flickr/Cal OES

Earthquakes are inevitable in California. And while many smaller quakes go unnoticed, public safety experts and researchers have long warned of the “big one” and the need for an adequate early warning system.

Other countries, like Japan and Mexico, rely on earthquake early warning (EEW) systems, but the United States — namely California — has been slow to fully fund and adopt the potentially life-saving technology.

But most recently, California Gov. Jerry Brown asked the Legislature for the allocation of more than $10 million in support of the U.S. Geological Survey's (USGS) ShakeAlert system, which could provide as much as a one-minute warning before the most violent shaking occurs.

Up to this point, the governor and state Legislature have advocated that the system, which was developed in conjunction with the University of California, Berkeley should be paid for through private and federal sources. Brown’s request is an apparent reversal of his original position.

The ShakeAlert system uses sensors and algorithms to detect the first waves of an impending quake. It then distributes an alert to communities in the path of the more powerful and damaging waves that follow. To date, the project has been successfully piloted with select partners.

During the 2014 Napa earthquake, which registered at a magnitude 6.0, the system was able to alert Bay Area Rapid Transit partners roughly 10 seconds ahead of the most severe shaking.

According to a report from The Los Angeles Times, the system could see a limited roll out as early as 2018 if funding materializes.