California Struggles to Ready Quake Early Warning System
Japan has one. So do Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey and Romania.
But California has struggled to develop and deploy an earthquake warning system that would give cities seconds of crucial time to prepare for the impact of a massive earthquake.
California is spending only a fraction of what Japan and Mexico have devoted, and scientists said the progress is so slow that they cannot say when the state might complete its own system.
Until recently, researchers were spending only about $400,000 a year developing the technology. Last year, they received a $6-million grant for work on a new prototype. But experts said it would cost about $150 million to build and $5 million a year to operate a system covering California and other quake-prone states along the Pacific.
Japan’s system cost $1 billion to build and includes 1,000 GPS sensors to detect and monitor seismic waves.
One reason for the lack of interest, some experts say, is that unlike Mexico, Japan and the other countries with early warning systems, California has not experienced a truly catastrophic earthquake in more than a century.
“I think it’ll happen. The question is whether we get it sooner than before we have a tragic earthquake or whether we have it after a tragic earthquake,” said Thomas Heaton, a professor of engineering seismology at Caltech. “Unfortunately in the earthquake business, often things don’t happen until we have a tragedy.”
Officials in California have been working on a system for about five years. And as personal technology continues to evolve, their current warning plan is geared heavily toward social media and mobile communications.
Alerts of coming quake waves in California could be sent via Twitter and other forms of social media, with scientists hoping to get word out as broadly as possible. Alerts would also go up on TV and radio. With the warning, scientists hope that emergency crews would have time to open fire station doors, protect nuclear power plants, slow down trains and take other measures before the quake was felt.