California may spend $10 million on earthquake warning system
May 16, 2016
California Gov. Jerry Brown has reversed course and proposed allocating $10 million in state funds toward an earthquake early warning system that federal government scientists and university researchers are developing. United States Geological Survey officials say the state funds would provide a big boost to the project and would allow for a limited rollout of earthquake alerts by 2018. [LA Times]
The warning system under construction would provide alerts in California, Oregon and Washington. But, the three West Coast states have thus far refused to make financial contributions from their state budgets.
In California, Brown and the state Legislature argued the money should come from private and federal sources. The federal government contributed $8 million to the project in the current fiscal year, and another $8 million has been requested for the upcoming fiscal year.
An earthquake warning system for California alone is estimated to cost about $23 million to build and $12 million annually to operate. If the system were to include Oregon and Washington, it would cost an estimated $38 million to build and $16 million annually to operate.
When a limited rollout of the early warning system occurs, places like classrooms, offices, shopping malls, amusement parks and police and fire stations will receive earthquake alerts. The alerts will allow for seconds, or perhaps more than a minute, of warning.
Officials say seconds of warning to drop, cover and hold on would save many lives during an earthquake. Alerts could also give trains time to slow down and doctors time to stop surgery.
Eventually, earthquake warning systems could halt the flow of natural gas through pipelines, which could prevent fires, and open elevators at the next floor to prevent occupants from being trapped. Scientists plan to develop apps for phones and computers that would deliver the alerts to users.
In 2014, a prototype early warning system provided researchers in San Francisco with eight seconds of warning that shaking from a magnitude 6.0 Napa earthquake was coming. Earlier this year, 30 seconds of warning was achieved before a magnitude 4.4 earthquake centered in Banning caused the ground to shake in downtown Los Angeles.
Of the $10 million Brown has proposed contributing, $6.875 million would go toward capital costs and $2.241 million would go toward educating people on how to react to alerts. Brown’s proposal calls for using the remainder of the money on staffing costs and determining future financing.