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Calif. senator announces plan for quake warning system

January 28, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
California may be closer to getting its own alert system that could warn against an incoming earthquake or tsunami.

State Sen. Alex Padilla announced on Monday legislation calling for a statewide earthquake warning system. He was joined by experts from the U.S. Geological Survey, Caltech, UC Berkeley and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

Cal Tech, USGS, and UC Berkley operate the California integrated seismic network and worked together to develop the technology. Scientists say the system would provide as little as 6 seconds and up to a minute's notice before the shaking begins.

Padilla says every precious moment counts. The statewide earthquake warning system could save lives and credit to a smoother operation by notifying local authorities.

"With a little bit of advance warning, we can get people to a safer location. We can tell doctors in the middle of a surgery or bring trains to a halt or power down our electrical infrastructure and certain key industries," Padilla said. "We can try to minimize that damage."

Cal Tech professor Thomas Heaton says the early warning system could make elevators automatically stop at their nearest floor.

"Having seconds could help depending on what the situation is," Heaton said. "I don't know about you but I don't want to be in an elevator when an earthquake hits. It would take the elevator to the closest floor and would extinguish flames in a hazardous situation."

Heaton says it's about time the warning system is being called into action.

"We have technology to communicate instantaneously, make decisions instantaneously. We have a network of seismometers. We just need to put it all together," Heaton said.

The alert would be sent via a text message or would appear instantly on your TV screen. However, receiving this earthquake warning system would depend on where you live. If you live near the epicenter, you wouldn't get a warning at all. Only residents who live near what researchers call the "blind zone" would be alerted.

The system would also warn officials when a tsunami is a possibility.

Warning systems are already in place in Japan, Mexico, and Romania and have been proven successful. The state of California doesn't have one yet due to the cost. One-thousand earthquake monitoring stations would have to be built or upgraded, costing $80 million and $10 million annually to keep them running.

The senator is hoping for federal assistance to supplement the startup costs, money Padilla says would be well spent.

Getting the earthquake warning system up and running isn't going to be a quick process. Even if Padilla's legislation is passed, it will take as many as two years before citizens become equipped with an earthquake alarm.


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