Lawmakers applaud federal money for earthquake warning system

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's recommendation to spend $5 million next year on an early earthquake warning system for the West Coast represents a significant breakthrough, congressional supporters of the project said Wednesday.

It's the first time Obama has included funding for the project in his annual budget recommendation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and congressman Adam Schiff, both Democrats, say the change shows the president recognizes the importance of moving ahead with the project more quickly.

"We couldn't agree more," Schiff said.

Lawmakers had secured $5 million for the early warning system in this year's spending bill and were seeking at least $16 million more in the next fiscal year, which begins in October. The money allows for the installation of more seismic detection stations and sensors. Several universities along the West Coast are working with the United States Geological Survey to put an early warning system in place.

A limited system has already been deployed for test users. Supporters of the project in Congress said the test users at the University of California at Berkeley received 10 seconds of warning when an earthquake hit in Napa Valley this past September. A few extra seconds can be critical, allowing doctors to pause surgeries, utilities to shut off the flow of natural gas, or train operators to brake before the shaking starts.

Feinstein said she will encourage the state of California and the private sector to "step up and contribute their fair share."