Congress OKs Funding Bill for Earthquake Warning System

Congress approved a funding bill Friday that includes $8.2 million for an early warning system capable of giving a few seconds or more of notice before an earthquake hits in the West Coast.

The funding for the West Coast Earthquake Warning System exceeds last year's $6.5 million amount approved for the same program, according to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank. The $8.2 million also is higher than the $5 million that was proposed by President Barack Obama for the fiscal year 2016 budget.

A few seconds of warning before an earthquake could be used to slow or stop trains and medical procedures, move to safe locations and drop, cover and hold on, open firehouse doors, protect power stations and ensure the elevator doors will open.

Language in the proposed budget states that a "natural hazards program" should get $60.5 million to address "earthquake hazards," with $8.2 million of that amount used "to transition the earthquake early warning demonstration project into an operational capability for the West Coast."

The funding still needs Senate approval and the President's signature.

The U.S. Geological Survey is working with Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon to create the early warning system, which is in the testing phase. The systems are operating already in several other countries, according to the USGS.

A demo system called ShakeAlert began sending test notifications to selected California users in January 2012. The system detects shaking using a network of 400 ground motion sensors. Users receive a message on a screen that provides a countdown to when they can expect shaking in their area. The ShakeAlert screen shows a map with the center of the shaking and quake magnitude.

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