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State Budgets $10 Million for Earthquake Early Warning




By Robert Sanders, UC Berkeley News


Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a 2016-17 state budget that provides $10 million to help launch a statewide earthquake early-warning system. 


Although California passed a mandate in 2013 to create a statewide earthquake warning system, this is the first money appropriated by the state to make it a reality.


The federal government has already provided $13.2 million to improve and test a prototype West Coast early-warning system, but this is much less than the $38 million in buildout costs and $16 million per year in operating costs needed to establish a fully functioning system serving California, Oregon and Washington.


“This is a key step toward the goal of a public earthquake early-warning system for the entire state,” said Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at UC Berkeley and one of the lead researchers on the project. “This funding will enable us to add more sensors to the seismic networks, making the warnings faster and enabling the system to reach more users.”


“This is an excellent beginning,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, who introduced funding legislation for the warning system earlier this year with Assemblyman Adam Gray, Merced, and state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. “While we still have work to do to secure public-private partnership money to complete the build-out, this $10 million is a big boost.”


The $10 million is seed money from the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. The funds will enable scientists and emergency preparedness experts from UC Berkeley, the U.S. Geological Survey and the California Institute of Technology to expand an early-warning prototype called ShakeAlert, which would provide advance warning of seconds to a minute before ground-shaking from a nearby earthquake.


The funds will also be used for education, research, sustainable financing and other important project components.


Several pilot projects have been established around the state to beta-test ShakeAlert and the viability of the warning system, but ShakeAlert’s reach is limited by system distribution, strength and capabilities.


Including station additions in the past year, ShakeAlert has just 538 sensors around the state and is available only to partners in the prototype project, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit system. In contrast, the statewide earthquake early-warning system would need several thousand sensors throughout California to reliably notify the public.


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