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Senator pitches $80m quake early warning system

A Southern California lawmaker has introduced a bill to create a statewide earthquake early warning system costing at least $80 million.

Padilla at CaltechIn a news conference this morning at the California Institute of Technology, state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, noted Caltech and the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology recently published a study concluding that a statewide California earthquake – affecting both the Bay Area and Los Angeles – may be possible.

“California is going to have an earthquake early warning system, the question is whether we have one before or after the next big quake,” Padilla said, joined at his news conference by seismologists from Caltech, UC Berkeley and the U.S. Geological Survey.

Building upon the California Integrated Seismic Network, seismologists envision a system that would process data from an array of sensors throughout the state to detect the strength and the progression of earthquakes, alert the public within seconds and provide up to 60 seconds advanced warning before potentially damaging ground shaking is felt.

“A fully developed earthquake early warning system would provide Californians critical seconds to take cover, assist loved ones, pull to the side of the road, or exit a building. It could allow time to stop a train or power down other critical infrastructure,” Padilla said. “The earthquake warning would not only alert the public, it would also speed the response of police and fire personnel by quickly identifying areas hardest hit by the quake.”

Michael Gurnis, a geophysics professor who directs the Caltech Seismological Laboratory, said earthquake early warning is a ripe area for development that “would save lives and help California in many ways if it is rolled out as a fully operational system.”

Padilla said that with the magnitude 6.7 Northridge Earthquake having claimed 60 lives and caused at least $13 billion in damage, spending $80 million for such a system is a smart investment.

“About 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes and over 80 percent of the world’s strongest quakes occur along the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Ring of Fire includes the very active San Andreas Fault zone here in California,” he said. “We all know a big quake will hit again in the future. We should be smart and use our advanced science and technology to detect seismic activity and alert people in advance of an approaching quake.”

The Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast released in 2008 predicted a 99.7 percent likelihood of a magnitude 6.7 earthquake in California in the next 30 years and a 94 percent chance of a magnitude 7.0. Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey, Romania, Italy and China either already have or are working on earthquake early warning systems.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Elwood

    It’s silly season in the silly CA leg.

    And that’s saying a lot.

    With a 2/3 dimmiecrat majority there will be no end to the silliness.

    Same comment applies to the gun and ammo bills. Most of the authors wouldn’t know a cap pistol from a 155mm howitzer.