BURBANK (CBSLA.com/AP) — A San Fernando Valley lawmaker is among several members of Congress calling for funding of an early warning system that could alert residents before an earthquake hits.
KNX 1070’s Ron Kilgore reports Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and others say it’s time California had an alert system similar to those implemented in Japan, Mexico and several other quake-prone countries.
In a letter sent Thursday to the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Schiff and other members of a West Coast congressional delegation from California, Washington and Oregon called for $16.1 million a year to build, operate and maintain an alert system that could give up to a full minute’s warning to help residents find safe shelter quickly.
“It was tested during these last couple of earthquakes and it proved effective, it did give advance notice,” said Schiff. “So we know the system works, and it’s really just a question of whether we’re going to build it out in time before we get the ‘Big One’.”
A test run of the proposed system by researchers at Caltech and the U.S. Geological Survey gave scientists about four seconds warning before last Friday’s big quake. Hours later, CBS2/KCAL9 was at a Caltech news conference when the alarm went off during a subsequent aftershock. It was the latest in a string of several earthquakes that have rattled Southern California over the last week.
Schiff said while the system can’t predict earthquakes and people at the epicenter won’t get any warning, those farther away from any major quake could benefit.
The letter – which cites FEMA estimates that earthquakes cost the federal government more than $5 billion a year over the long term – calls the system a “common-sense investment” that “could make a real difference in more rapid recovery for local communities, the federal government and the economy as a whole.”
Caltech Prof. Thomas Heaton, of the Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory, says the system demonstration project is working well but is very limited.
“At the moment, the early warning system is a university demonstration project, so there are graduate students involved. But to take it that next step upwards, automatically controlling all of California, you need a more thoroughly engineered system than what we can do with a university project,” Heaton said.
Congressman Ken Calvert, a Republican from Corona, is the chair of the committee which received the funding letter from Rep. Schiff. Calvert says he has supported the concept of an earthquake warning system for many years, but he said the “test phase is operational but USGS still have work to do to improve reliability, accuracy and to figure out the best way to communicate early warnings to people.”
Heaton agrees that there is still work to do and that will take more funding. He says it the demonstration project is being funded by a private foundation and that grant will dry up in the next two years.
Schiff says it’s imperative that the government funds this project.
“There’s really no question about the proven nature of the technology – this works. The only question is: Are we going to build this before the next big quake or are we going to do it afterward, when we’ll be kicking ourselves for not having the foresight to do it in advance?” Schiff said.
Calvert says he hopes to have a bill moving through the House of Representatives by the end of this year.
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