California Earthquake Early Warning Plan Lacks Funds

The warning system is designed to provide up to a minute’s warning to people in Los Angeles.

by Mark Muckenfuss, McClatchy News / May 21, 2014

Earthquake and emergency officials are taking a plea for funding to the public.

Representatives from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, California Institute of Technology, U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies presented a workshop Monday at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands. It was one of two statewide meetings. The other was held in Vallejo.

The program laid out the current state of the earthquake early warning system developed by CalTech and USGS and promoted the idea of building partnerships between public and private agencies to fund the system.

The warning system is designed to provide up to a minute’s warning to people in Los Angeles if a large earthquake is generated on the San Andreas fault in the Salton Sea area, one of the most likely places for the fault to rupture. Inland Empire residents could expect up to half a minute’s warning. The system could theoretically provide warnings for earthquakes that occur across California’s fractured landscape.

OES director Mark Ghilarducci said Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed SB135 last year authorizing construction of an early warning system wants to see the system “up and running in two years.” But, the bill didn’t doesn’t provide for its funding.

The estimated price tag of a system in California, which would also cover Oregon and Washington, is $23.1 million, with an annual operating budget of $11.4 million.

Officials are looking for private sector help in planning and funding the delivery of warning information to the public and also in taking actions prior to and following a major quake.

Ideas discussed at the meeting included collaborating with large retailers and hospital associations; implementing a crowdfunding project; tapping public funds through such things as voluntary donations on tax filings or an earthquake license plate; or using excess funds from the California Earthquake Authority, the state-run insurance program.

Monica Ruzich, 58, of Huntington Beach said the amount of money involved, compared to the overall state budget, seemed a pittance.

“I think people would be surprised to know we have this technology,” Ruzich said. “I think people would expect to have this. We need to step up as a society.”

Doug Given of the USGS oversees the warning system demonstration project that was put online two years ago, which is built on seismic monitoring networks already in place. But Given said 440 additional seismic stations are needed for the envisioned comprehensive system.

Given said he and CalTech researcher Thomas Heaton feel they are close to a long-held vision.

The fact that the technology is in place to implement such a system, Heaton said, “is a result of steady development by ... an entire community of people who are dedicated to studying earthquakes and figuring out how to protect our society from them.”

That work, he said, has come to fruition.

“At one point, I wondered if I’d see it in my career,” Heaton said. “Now it looks like it's going to be a reality.”

©2014 The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, Calif.)