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Feinstein calls for quake early-warning system

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., issued this statement Monday:

“With more than 100 injured and estimates of damage approaching $1 billion, the Napa earthquake reminds us how incredibly dangerous these temblors can be. There’s no doubt a major earthquake will hit California, the only questions are when and where.

“I believe an integrated earthquake early-warning system is essential to save lives and property. Two bills from the Senate Appropriations Committee move us toward that goal. The bill to fund the Department of the Interior includes $5 million to begin work on an early-warning system, while the bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security urges FEMA to prioritize grant funds for such a system. These bills will advance this fall and I will continue to prioritize funding for this system.

“An earthquake early-warning system would provide crucial time to carry out lifesaving actions. A warning of even a handful of seconds would allow for emergency notifications to be sent; trains and traffic to be slowed or stopped; supplies of oil, gas and chemicals to be turned off; nuclear plants to be safeguarded; even elevators to be safely emptied.

“What we need is the political resolve to deploy such a system. Officials in Washington and along the West Coast should partner with the private sector to make an interoperable earthquake early-warning system a reality, and we should do so as soon as possible before a much larger earthquake strikes.”

California already has a demonstration early-warning system called the California Integrated Seismic Network, which did provide its test users in some parts of the Bay Area with up to about 10 seconds of warning before Sunday morning’s temblor hit.

Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed into law SB 135 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Van Nuys, which requires the Office of Emergency Services to work with other agencies to expand this into a comprehensive statewide earthquake early warning system. But the bill didn’t appropriate any of the $80 million it’s estimated such a system would cost; instead, it gave the OES until Jan. 1, 2016 to find funding for the project.

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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.