Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today announced $5 million in federal funds that could jump start the development of an earthquake early warning system in Southern California
A fully operational system is still a few years way, but earthquake scientists said once steady funding becomes available, Southern Californians could get alerts up to a minute before temblors strikes.
The latest set of funds will add 100 more detection stations to an existing network and improve the system's communication capabilities in the Los Angeles and Long Beach area.
"We're proud to provide this additional funding to improve the system's capacity and bring it to the level required to make earthquake early warning a reality in Southern California," Villaraigosa said during an event held at the Emergency Operations Center in downtown Los Angeles.
U.S. Geological Survey scientists have been working with Caltech, UC Berkeley, and the Southern California Earthquake Center since 2006 to develop a warning system.
A warning system already is used in Japan, where residents have been known to get as much as 30 seconds of warning, while those closer to earthquake epicenters have gotten alerts between 5-10 seconds prior.
The several seconds' head start can be enough to get to a safer location, open the doors of an elevator, slow or stop trains, prevent airplanes from landing or taking off, clear a bridge of traffic, or allow doctors, and emergency personnel time to react.
The early warning technology uses sensors placed near active fault lines that pick up on the fast-moving energy waves sent out just before the ground begins shaking.
The effort to build a system in Southern California is still in the "demonstration" stage, according to Doug Givens, the Earthquake Early Warning System Coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey.
He said it could cost another $18 million to build, and $12 million a year to operate, an early warning system in California, adding that a bill making its way through the state legislature could allocate five years of funding for the system.
President Obama also included $850,000 for earthquake early warning research in his proposed 2013-14 budget, he said.
Givens added USGS's goal is to set up a warning system across the West Coast, including in the Pacific Northwest.