$6 million given to develop early earthquake warning system

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Students practiced the ''drop, cover and hold on' exercise during the Great Southern California ShakeOut in 2008

UC Berkeley, Cal-Tech and the University of Washington have won a $6 million grant to develop an early earthquake warning system.

The Palo Alto-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation is offering the grant to encourage researchers to put an extensive sensor system in place along the West Coast, giving people seconds to minutes of warning before a massive quake.

Tom Heaton directs the Earthquake Engineering Research Lab at Cal Tech. He figures it’ll cost about $150 million to build a reliable warning system, although (he added) it could be difficult to nail down the full amount.

“To be perfectly blunt, in our business significant funds for the earthquakes typically only follow tragic earthquake happenings," said Heaton. "It’s easy for us to not really think that much about earthquakes until we’re confronted with them.”

Cal-Tech and Berkeley are currently testing an early warning system called ShakeAlert. The system opens a pop-up alert listing the location, magnitude and time of an earthquake-- all minutes before shaking can be felt.

The advantages of such a system would be far-reaching. Sixty seconds of warning time would be enough to put a hold on everything from Metro trains to surgeries.

"A warning system has the potential to save thousands of lives and millions of dollars in the event of an earthquake," said Cyndi Atherton,

With contributions by Paige Osburn

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