By Miriam Raftery, East County Magazine
February 20, 2018 (San Diego) – Earthquake warning systems have been proven effective in Japan, Taiwan and Mexico, where residents received warnings ranging from a few seconds to a minute before major earthquakes struck.
Even a short warning can be enough to save lives at hospitals, airports, power plants, schools and other locations.
In high-rises, elevators could be shut down at the next floor to prevent people from becoming trapped. Garage doors could be opened to allow emergency vehicles to exit before a possible power outage. Trains could be slowed down to prevent derailment and planes could be delayed from landing during a quake. Power plants, oil refineries and nuclear plants could take steps to prevent explosions and fires.
Commuters could opt to stay out of tunnels and off bridges, such as one that collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, crushing motorists. Residents could take cover away from windows or objects that might fall. Teachers could have children take cover in schools.
The partially built ShakeAlert system would cost an estimated $38 million to finish setting up for the West Coast, plus about $16 million a year to operate and maintain. The system is poised to begin issuing alerts to the public later this year in southern California including via cell phones—but only if funding isn’t cut.
The system requires sensors to detect earthquakes where they start along fault lines, and send notifications to residents further along the fault. It measures p-waves, the first to occur, before the more damaging s-waves are transmitted, according to www.ShakeAlert.org.
But only about three-fourths of the sensors needed in California alone have been funded, and even less in Oregon and Washington.
But now President Trump’s budget proposes to cut funds to zero for the earthquake early warning system for California and other west coast states, the Los Angeles Times reports.
His plan has drawn opposition not only from Democrats, but also some Republicans – notably Congressman Ken Calvert of California, who chairs a subcommittee that oversees funding for the U.S. Geological Survey that administers the earthquake early warning program.
Representative Calvert says, “A functioning earthquake early warning system can provide critical life-saving benefits, which is why there’s broad bipartisan support to fund it in Congress.” He concludes, “This is a system the West Coast needs to have in place.”