Jerry Hill and Adam Gray Announce Legislation to Provide Start-up Funding For Earthquake Early Warning System


21758027_d367e978aeSacramento, CA – State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo and Santa Clara counties), along with Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced), announced today legislation, AB 1346 (Gray) and SB 438 (Hill), that will help implement a statewide earthquake early warning system that will help save lives, protect property, and business interests. The mandate to create the statewide warning system has been on the books since 2013, with a plan to fund it through public-private partnerships. Those partnerships have yet to materialize.

“It’s not a matter if, but when, the next big earthquake will occur,” said Senator Hill. “We owe it to our residents to get this system up and running as soon as possible. The technology exists and has for some time. All we need to do is provide the funding.”

“Funding programs that keep our constituents safer should be a top priority for the legislature,” said Assemblymember Gray. “The Earthquake Early Warning System will protect property, mitigate systemic damage, and above all save lives in the event of an earthquake. We cannot and will not wait for that funding to trickle in. It is our responsibility to ensure resources are available to get this system up and running as soon as possible.”

In 2013, California passed a law requiring the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) to develop a comprehensive statewide earthquake early warning system based on public-private partnerships. The law prohibits the use of General Funds.  The  warning system is a must in California, which, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS), is the second most seismologically active state. Only Alaska has more earthquake activity. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says that 66 percent ($3.5 billion) of annual monetary losses due to earthquakes comes from California. We are due for another big earthquake soon. The most recent Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast published in March 2015 predicts that there is 99.7% likelihood of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake in California in the next 30 years. There is a 93% chance there will be a magnitude 7.0 earthquake or larger.
“The idea has been to fund the warning system without relying on state tax dollars. While we agree collaborative funding models are a must, the system is intended to provide benefits to the California public at large. This is the exact kind of project we pay taxes for-projects that can provide real, tangible benefits to every Californian,” said Senator Hill and Assemblymember Adam Gray. “This doesn’t mean that the system will be fully funded. We still need to have conversations with project stakeholders about how to maintain the systems operability into the future. We are showing our residents and constituents, as well as project stakeholders, that the State of California is committed to seeing this project implemented.”

“Our Legislative Analyst predicts the state will end the year with a reserve of $11.7 billion. We should use a small fraction of that money to make a smart, one-time investment in a system that can improve public safety and save lives of Californians,” said the legislators. “We share Governor Brown’s commitment to fiscal restraint, however, to not invest a small amount of money to implement the earthquake early warning system would be fiscally irresponsible”

SB 438 and SB 1346 will have mirroring provisions that strike language in current law that prohibits General Fund dollars from being used to fund the Earthquake Early Warning System. Additionally, the bills will appropriate $23.1 million to install the needed seismic sensors, to implement the telecommunications technology, and to get the system up and running.


An earthquake early warning system is composed of a series of sensors in the ground that detect shaking and disseminate warnings up to 60 seconds before the shaking occurs.(usually we say seconds, to tens of seconds. I think 90 seconds is the largest for California). The systems detect earthquakes as soon as they happen; the systems do not predict earthquakes. While the warnings may only be a few seconds before shaking occurs, early warning has many benefits:

*   It can provide time for residents to drop and cover
*   Businesses can shut down or put into safe mode crucial operations and protect their assets
*   Trains can come to a complete stop or slow down to prevent derailment
*   Doctors performing surgeries would be able to stop delicate procedures
*   There could be automated responses, such as fire station garage doors opening immediately upon receiving an alert so the garage doors don’t get jammed due to the shaking

Currently, there is prototype earthquake early warning system in place, called ShakeAlert, which is a partnership between the USGS, UC Berkeley, CalTech, and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. The system is funded largely by the USGS ($9 million) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation ($10 million). The ShakeAlert system is comprised of about 400 sensors throughout the state and is limited to sending alerts to participating prototype system partners, such as Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART). The system does not provide earthquake warnings to the public or on a statewide basis because it does not have a dense enough network of sensors, nor enough connectivity to disseminate alerts on a broad scale. California, through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Geological Survey, provides $5.2 million to operate a network of seismic sensors, called the California Integrated Seismic Network, which provides earthquake shaking information to the ShakeAlert system.

The goal of the law passed in 2013 was to expand the prototype ShakeAlert system, but adequate funding is needed for the expansion. As estimated by the USGS, at least $23.1 million in additional funding is needed for one-time start-up costs, and another $11.4 million is needed for ongoing maintenance and operation costs. Last December the federal government provided another $8.2 million for earthquake early warning to be split up between California, Washington, and Oregon, but the state of California has yet to provide any additional funding beyond what it already provides because current law prohibits the use of General Funds. The funding provided by Senator Hill’s and Assemblymember Gray’s legislation would be used to get the warning system up and running, which would include installing  440 new and upgraded seismic sensors throughout the state, connecting 840 existing seismic sensors with communications equipment so they can be hooked up into the system, and developing s system to send alerts to the public.

As an example of how earthquake early warning works, when the Napa earthquake struck in August 2014, the ShakeAlert system provided BART with a 10 second warning. Had BART trains been running at the time (the earthquake struck early in the morning, before trains were running), the trains would have automatically slowed down or come to a complete stop when the alert was received. Another example is the OKI Semiconductor Plant in Japan, which experienced tow earthquakes in 2003 that caused more than $15 million in losses and the plant had to be shut down for up to 15 days each time. After the installation of the earthquake early warning system, in two similar earthquakes since, the factory only suffered a loss of $200,000 and up to 4.5 days of downtime.

Several other countries have already implemented earthquake early warning. After the 1995 Kobe earthquake in Japan that killed about 6,500 people, Japan implemented a warning system that went online in 2007 and saved lives during the disastrous 2011 earthquake that lead to the closure of the Fukajima nuclear power plant. Similarly, after over 10,000 people died in the 1991 Mexico City earthquake, Mexico implemented a system a few years later.

photo credit: Fairview Peak Earthquake Fault via photopin (license)

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