Does California Need an Earthquake Early-Warning System?

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An L.A. County lawmaker announced proposed legislation Monday to create an earthquake-warning system that could give California residents up to 60 seconds advance notice when a temblor strikes.

The initial cost estimate of $80 million would help pay for ground sensors and relays that could provide text and mobile alerts in the event of a quake on the San Andreas Fault, according to Caltech scientists in Pasadena and state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Van Nuys).

"California is going to have an earthquake early warning system," Padilla said at a news conference at Caltech. "The question is whether we have one before or after the next big quake."

Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey, Romania, Italy and China either have or are working on earthquake early warning systems.

Building on the existing California Integrated Seismic Network, seismologists hope for a system that will process data from sensors throughout the state, Padilla's staff said in a statement.

"The system would effectively detect the strength and the progression of earthquakes, alert the public within seconds and provide up to 60 seconds advanced warning before potentially damaging ground shaking is felt," Padilla's staff said.

A fully-developed early warning system could provide Californians critical seconds to take cover, assist loved ones, pull to the side of the road, or exit a building, Padilla said. It could also allow time to stop a train or power down other critical infrastructure, Padilla said.

An earthquake warning would not only alert the public, it would also speed responses of police and fire personnel by quickly identifying areas hardest hit by the quake, Padilla said.

"We firmly believe Earthquake Early Warning would save lives and help California in many ways if it is rolled out as a fully operational system," said Dr. Michael Gurnis, professor of geophysics and director of Caltech's Seismological Laboratory.

About 90 percent of the world's earthquakes and more than 80...
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