Environment & Science

Early earthquake warning system gets $5 million in Obama budget

Earthquake early warning systems like ShakeAlert work because the warning message can be transmitted almost instantaneously, whereas the shaking waves from the earthquake travel through the shallow layers of the Earth at speeds of one to a few kilometers per second (0.5 to 3 miles per second). This diagram shows how such a system would operate. When an earthquake occurs, both compressional (P) waves and transverse (S) waves radiate outward from the epicenter. The P wave, which travels fastest, trips sensors placed in the landscape, causing alert signals to be sent ahead, giving people and automated electronic systems some time (seconds to minutes) to take precautionary actions before damage can begin with the arrival of the slower but stronger S waves and later-arriving surface waves. Computers and mobile phones receiving the alert message calculate the expected arrival time and intensity of shaking at your location.
Earthquake early warning systems like ShakeAlert work because the warning message can be transmitted almost instantaneously, whereas the shaking waves from the earthquake travel through the shallow layers of the Earth at speeds of one to a few kilometers per second (0.5 to 3 miles per second). This diagram shows how such a system would operate. When an earthquake occurs, both compressional (P) waves and transverse (S) waves radiate outward from the epicenter. The P wave, which travels fastest, trips sensors placed in the landscape, causing alert signals to be sent ahead, giving people and automated electronic systems some time (seconds to minutes) to take precautionary actions before damage can begin with the arrival of the slower but stronger S waves and later-arriving surface waves. Computers and mobile phones receiving the alert message calculate the expected arrival time and intensity of shaking at your location.
USGS

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Congressional leaders are lauding the Obama Administration’s inclusion of a funding request for $5 million in its proposed annual budget to go towards building and maintaining an earthquake early detection system for the West Coast.

“This is the first time the Administration has made earthquake early warning system funding a priority in its own budget,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank). “It demonstrates an ongoing federal commitment to make this happen.”

An early detection system could provide residents with up to a minute of advance warning depending on how far they are from an earthquake’s epicenter.

Such a warning could allow enough time to give residents a chance to find appropriate shelter, as well as allow vehicles and trains to be slowed to reduce possibility of collisions and derailments. The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has used information from an existing earthquake early warning system since 2012.

The Administration’s budget item comes just months after Congress approved a $5 million allocation for a warning system in its spending bill, widely known as the “CRomnibus.”

Much more money will need be raised before a completed early warning system is ready. Some estimates put the cost at about $38 million to build and $16 million annually to maintain.

Schiff said that federal funding can only go so far and that states will have to find other sources of money in order to complete the project.

“No one can expect the federal government to pay the full freight. We’re going to need California, Oregon and Washington to kick in as well,” Schiff said.

Some of the needed funding has come from private grants. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has contributed $6.5 million in grants for developing and testing of the system since 2011, according to the foundation’s website.

Despite the West Coast focus of the warning system, Schiff said that federal funding is warranted because of wider applications for the rest of the country.

“The West Coast isn’t the only part of the country that gets earthquakes,” he said. “California and the West often serve as a pilot for the rest of the country in developing new technology, and this is no different.”