There is a new push to bring an early warning earthquake system on line in California. The push comes in the wake of new research that shows California could have an earthquake of statewide proportions - from the southland to San Francisco.
Those behind the system say that people living in the epicenter may not have time to get the warning but millions of others will. Advocates say it's a matter of safety and survival.
Doctor Lucy Jones of the u.s. geological survey demonstrates the earthquake early warning system. Once in place, it would give up to 60 seconds for people to act before the ground starts rumbling.
"Here's the P-wave. We use that information to figure out what's going on. The slower-traveling S-wave is what actually costs the damage," said Dr. Jones.
What do mere seconds mean?
"Move the elevator to the next floor. Ring an alarm in the operating room or the dentist's office to pull the drill out your mouth," said Dr. Jones.
Shutting down machinery and stopping trains on tracks are among other immediate reactions that could help save lives, according to state Senator Alex Padilla. Padilla is introducing new legislation to improve the current California Integrated Seismic Network at a cost of 80 million dollars.
"I think a lot of people have a stake in an early warning system, whether it's energy utilities that may have to power down power plants, nuclear and otherwise, to minimize the risk of damage," said Senator Padilla.
The Tohoku earthquake of 2011 cost Japan nearly 300 billion dollars. Thousands of lives were lost in the magnitude nine quake yet many received an alert through the country's early warning system, letting them know the big one was coming. An estimated 50 million had the app on their phones or computers.
"Even the locations closest to that earthquake got about eight seconds warning because the earthquake was offshore," said Dr. Jones.
A total of one thousand seismic stations would be needed for the system as well as employees to monitor it 24-7. The warning would also come in the form of an Amber Alert and highway road signs would also describe the intensity of the earthquake in your area.
Previous attempts to upgrade the system were turned down in 2012 because of budget constraints. Ultimately, the source of funds for this project may end up being California taxpayers who live in the most seismically-active regions of the state.