Earthquake warning system takes step forward; still underfunded

Apr 10, 2017, 5:32 AM | Updated: 9:27 am

The early-warning system that will, once complete, alert the public prior to a strong earthquake is taking a big step forward. “Version 1.2” of the system will allow early adopters to develop pilot implementations that will “pave the way for broader use.”

16 years after Nisqually quake: Are we ready for the ‘Big One’?

“This is an important milestone,” said Doug Given, the USGS National Earthquake Early Warning Coordinator. “The Pacific Northwest is moving from the demonstration stage to a production prototype. That’s important because it will allow selected pilot users to start doing limited application that uses the alerts and takes tangible actions.”

For anyone worried about an earthquake the likes of which we’ve never seen before, that should be somewhat comforting news. An early-warning system could provide several seconds, or even a minute or two before damaging shaking begins. And that’s all the time you need to at least get under a desk.

But don’t expect the warning system to be available in your phone’s app store anytime soon.

In a press release, USGS estimated it will cost $38.3 million in capital investment to complete the system. That is in addition to current funding to support the earthquake monitoring networks, according to the USGS.

Given says the State of California has allocated $10 million “this fiscal year” to build out monitoring stations and provide training and education. Oregon has given about $1 million worth of equipment to the cause.

That still leaves the system underfunded, especially because that assumed $8.2 million in federal funding this year is — as many things are at the moment — up in the air.

“So it’s kind of complicated,” Given said.

He wouldn’t go into specifics on the federal budget.

“Being an employee of the executive branch, there’s not a lot I can say about the budget,” he said.

But others have expressed their concern.

Eric Holdeman, director of the Center for Regional Disaster Resilience, recently told us that while he doesn’t believe the Trump administration would ignore the West Coast in the event of a natural disaster, it is in the realm of possibility for the federal government to consider cuts to preparation funding.

“Whether it’s buying equipment, doing training, doing disaster exercises like the ‘Cascadia Rising’ that was held last June — those are the funds that conceivably could be in jeopardy depending on what the administration chooses to do,” Holdeman said.

The USGS estimates it will take about $16 million a year to run the system on the West Coast once it is fully operational. It could see at least limited public use by 2018.

“It will be a benefit to society,” Given said.

Let’s just hope the “Big One” holds off until it’s ready.

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Earthquake warning system takes step forward; still underfunded