California needs a robust earthquake system

- Even just a few seconds can help most folks avoid panic, get out of harm’s way and function with some warning.

Earthquake alarms in Mexico City sounded more than a minute before the shaking from a massive 8.2 magnetite mega quake hit southern Mexico, 500 miles away. Japan also has a nationwide earthquake warning system. But, no such truly widespread system is available yet in California. Why? Apparently, not enough dead people

Jennifer Strauss of the UC Berkeley Seismology Lab is also Regional Coordinator of the California Shake Alert Committee said, "They started early and in response to sort of major, catastrophic earthquakes -- Mexico during the 1985 quake and in Japan after Kobe."

In Kobe, 6,000 killed, 40,000 injured and 300,000 displaced. In Mexico, at least 10,000 to as many as 45,000 killed, 30,000 injured and more than 100,000 displaced.

"Because we're not responding to this mass casualty event, it first started with, 'Can you do it?'" said Ms. Strauss. Strauss likes to quote State Senator Padilla who unsuccessfully introduced legislation to head of a major quake, "If a major earthquake happened tomorrow, then funding for this would fall from the skies."

Dave Croker, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey's Earthquake Science Center in Menlo Park, says a quake warning system is being developed.

"We're well on our way to a shake alert early warning system but there is a lot of work left to do," said scientist Croker. “

“But it will be harder to do here. We have a very different geography here that makes these alert times much shorter," says Strauss.

At the current pace, we're 5 years away from a truly instantaneous alert system. We need 550 more shake sensors added to the 550 already out there along with communications to connect to radios, TVs, smart phones, landlines and computers, as well as sirens.

Cost: $38 million plus about $15 million a year to operate and maintain the statewide system -- half that time if funding were available. "It seems that the money always comes out of the coffers after a disaster and that's true of earthquakes as well," said USGS's Dave Croker.

But, if enough citizens demand it, it could come sooner.

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