Scientists looking to expand earthquake early warning system


Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and their earthquake affiliates, like Cal Tech, got together at a conference on Friday to discuss their latest research, including the early warning system.

"If we can detect the earthquake very rapidly, we can warn you that that shaking is coming towards you and will reach you in some amount of time," said Doug Given, Earthquake Early Warning Coordinator, USGS.

The system has been in place on a small scale for about a year, and improvements have been made thanks to a $3.8 million grant from the Department of Defense, but experts say they need more money to implement it on a broader scale.

"We need to have a transmission system that is very fast and very effective, so you'd get a couple seconds to get a message out," said Robert Graves, Southern California Earthquake Coordinator, USGS.

USGS estimates that in the next five years, with funding of about $16 million a year, they could get that system up and running, which may include information on a website, or cellphone alert. In Southern California, the warning could come up to 90 seconds before the shaking begins.

Scientists also discussed the safety of buildings throughout Southern California, many of which have not been retrofitted.

"Personally, I would very much like to see that people would be able to go to a website and get some information about the shaking resistance of individual buildings," said Tom Heaton, Cal Tech professor of engineering seismology. "Right now, if you're a citizen in Los Angeles, you really have no way to tell what's a good building and what's a bad building."

Scientists say it's not a matter of if but when the next big quake hits, and when it does, they want you to be prepared with an earthquake kit and a plan.

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