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California to create earthquake alert system

September 24th, 2013 | by Ian James | Comments

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday signed a bill aimed at creating a statewide earthquake alert system, a project that would give Californians early warning before the onset of shaking during a powerful quake.

The bill requires the Office of Emergency Services to develop the earthquake warning system. The agency would then have until 2016 to come up with funding to build the system, which is projected to cost $23 million to complete, plus $12 million a year to keep it running.

Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), who sponsored Senate Bill 135, commended Brown for signing the legislation and said it ultimately will save lives by giving people seconds of warning to take cover in a quake.

Despite the active San Andreas Fault, California has lagged behind earthquake-prone countries such as Japan, Mexico, Turkey and China, which either have or are developing quake alert systems.

How the alerts would be delivered has yet to be determined. People would likely hear alarms go off on their cell phones, TVs, radios and computers. Padilla said it’s possible that sirens could be installed in coastal areas prone to tsunamis.

With seconds of warning before a large earthquake, trains could be stopped, elevator doors could open and business could shut down critical infrastructure.

The bill’s approval gives officials a green light to build upon an initial network of seismic sensors that the U.S. Geological Survey and a team of researchers are already using on a trial basis to transmit warnings when quakes are detected.

The measure also allows for private companies to play a role in the system.

The company Seismic Warning Systems, Inc., praised the signing of the bill and the inclusion of private firms.

“Collaboration between government and the private sector is essential to the success of a statewide earthquake warning system,” George Dickson, the company’s CEO, said in a statement.

The Scotts Valley-based company has been working with officials in the Coachella Valley to expand a local network of sensors already operating at 15 fire stations and two SunLine Transit Agency bus centers. Riverside County has applied for a grant that would bring warning systems to 87 schools, additional fire stations and other facilities, and the California Emergency Management Agency has said the $1.5 million proposal is on a waiting list for that federal grant.

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