Earthquake Early Warning System Bill Heads to Governor

A similar system in Japan warned millions before a 9.0-magnitude quake struck

Californians could be warned of an earthquake up to a minute before it hits if Gov. Jerry Brown approves a bill headed to his desk.

The warning system would detect strength and progression of a forthcoming earthquake and alert the public within seconds, giving up to 60 seconds of warning before anyone feels the ground rumbling beneath them.

Senate Bill 135, introduced in January by Senator Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima, would require the state to build a comprehensive early earthquake warning system for a price tag of $80 million, according to a statement from Padilla’s office.

Though expensive, the cost is thought be outweighed by the lifesaving potential of the system.

"When it comes to earthquakes in California, it is not a matter of if, but when," Padilla said. "A fully developed earthquake early warning system will provide Californians critical seconds to take cover, assist loved ones, or pull over safely to the side of the road.

"It could allow time to stop a train and power down critical infrastructure. Most importantly, it will save lives."

A total of 1,000 seismic stations would be needed for the system to work, as well as having enough employees to monitor it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The warning, which could also come in a form similar to "Amber Alerts" on freeway road signs, would also describe the expected intensity of the earthquakes in the area.

The beta-system worked successfully during a test in March, providing a 30-second warning to seismologists of a 4.7-magnitude temblor in the Riverside County desert.

California would not be the first place to initiate a warning system for quakes. Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey, Romania, Italy and China either have or are working on earthquake early warning systems.


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Japan's working system proved crucial when it gave warning to the 9.0-magnitude Tohoku earthquake in March 2011.

Japanese television and radio broadcasted the warning, and 52 million people were alerted by their smartphones.

The system brought bullet trains to a stop, and a professor at the University of Sendai who received a text message of the warning warned his students to duck for cover before light fixtures began to fall from the ceiling.

If SB 135 is approved, California’s Office of Emergency Services would have until Jan. 1, 2016, to identify funding for the system.

Brown has until Oct. 13 to act on the bill.

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