Earthquake early warning system for California proposed

Jan 28, 2013

Firemen cross a street as a broken 16-inch gas mai

Firemen cross a street as a broken 16-inch gas main burns in the background, 17 January 1994, after an earthquake, measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale, struck the San Fernando Valley area. Officials confirmed 28 deaths resulting from the quake. Credit: HAL GARB/AFP/Getty Images

If an unexpected disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy hit populated areas of California, would we be ready? Many think a disaster of that scale could come in the form of a massive earthquake, which would hit suddenly and without warning.

Today, California state senator Alex Padilla is sponsoring legislation to fund an earthquake early warning system to buy millions of Californians crucial seconds that could save countless lives and dollars. The system would be made up of a network of sensors in the ground that, when shaken, would alert distant cities of the coming earthquake. In theory, if the system detected a quake in the Bay Area, it could give Angelenos up to a full minute of warning — time that could be used to get children in classrooms to safety or maybe stop a train hauling toxic material.

What is the science behind a system like this? Does the cost  seem worth the expense if it only buys us a minute?


Alex Padilla, Democratic State Senator from California’s 20th State Senate district which encompasses the San Fernando Valley.

Douglas Given, geophysicist and Early Warning Project coordinator, can speak about the science behind the system

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