Earthquake early warning system approved by governor

Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill today to create a California earthquake early warning system, which will require that the Office of Emergency Services (OES) develop a system to warn Californians before dangerous shaking occurs.

The author of SB 135, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), said the bill is necessary because Californians live in “earthquake country” and will provide time for those in area of intense shaking to take cover, as well as alert emergency crews to respond quicker to areas hit by an earthquake.

“California is going to have an earthquake early warning system; the question is whether we have one before or after the next big quake,” Padilla said in a press release from his office.

A beta early warning system is in place called the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN), which provided seismologists a 30-second warning of a 4.7 magnitude earthquake in the Riverside County Desert.

The OES will have until Jan. 1, 2016 to identify funding for the system, which is estimated to cost $80 million. OES will work with the California Seismic Safety Commission, California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the California Geological Survey, the University of California at Berkeley, the United States Geological Survey and other institutions to develop the system.

The system works by processing data from sensors throughout the state to detect an earthquake’s strength and progression. Warnings would likely be automatically broadcast on television and radio, as earthquake-prone Japan’s early warning system does. Scientists hope to develop up to 60 seconds of warning to Californians.

California lies in the path of the notoriously active San Andreas Fault, where two tectonic plates slip past each other in opposite directions, called a transform fault. In addition to the San Andreas Fault, the California Geological Survey has identified hundreds of other fault zones, 200 of which are hazardous.

According to the Office of Emergency Services website, more than 70 percent of California’s population resides within 30 miles of an active fault.

“The signing of Senate Bill 135 by Governor Brown is a critical step forward in our efforts to provide Californians with enough warning that an earthquake capable of producing intense ground shaking has begun, to take action, such as take cover under a desk, stop elevators and trains, suspend manufacturing or take other actions that will help save lives, reduce injuries and mitigate economic and property losses,” said Mark Ghilarducci, Director of the OES and Homeland Security Advisor to Governor Brown, in a statement.

An early warning system is already in place in Japan, which provided the public warning of a 9.0 magnitude Tohoku earthquake in March 2011 via television, radio and a smartphone early warning app. The system stopped bullet trains and shut down manufacturing at several critical companies.

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Amy Stewart can be reached at amy@techwire.net or 805.708.8561.

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