California budget includes $10 million for earthquake early warning system

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a state budget Monday that includes $10 million funding for a statewide earthquake early warning system designed by members of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

The fund will include approximately $7 million for expanding earthquake-detecting systems as well as $3 million for educational and training programs by the state’s Office of Emergency Services. The office will use these funds in partnership with ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning system created by researchers from UC Berkeley.

Beginning in 2013, ShakeAlert received a variety of public and private funding, including $13 million from Congress. Many felt, however, that the funding was insufficient, leading state Assemblymember Adam Gray, D-Merced, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, to push for a bill in the state budget dedicated specifically to a California early warning system.

“Nearly every day, we are reminded of the immense danger earthquakes present for California,” Hertzberg said in an email statement. “It is imperative that we get an earthquake early warning system in place as soon as possible, fund its operation going forward and do our best to protect Californians.”

ShakeAlert is designed in partnership with public and private entities such as the city of San Francisco, Google, BART, Caltech and the University of Washington. The system’s technology consists of about 500 seismic stations in California that utilize seismometers and cellphone modems, which transmit data to two computerized processing systems located in Berkeley and at Caltech.

Earthquakes produce two types of waves, S-waves and P-waves, with P-waves traveling faster but causing less damage. The seismometers detect the earlier P-waves in order to provide a warning that comes anywhere from a few seconds to a minute and a half in advance of the more destructive S-waves, allowing many people the crucial opportunity to ensure their safety and prevent potential damage.

“It only takes three seconds to drop, cover and roll,” said Douglas Given of the United States Geological Survey, a federal agency partnered with ShakeAlert. “Slowing a BART train is around 10 seconds.”

On the side of research and development, the funding will be used to increase the number of seismology systems to 1,200 in California and further develop data streaming algorithms. Researchers are also looking to ensure that if one computer center fails in the event of a major earthquake nearby, the other system will continue to receive information from all locations and send out alerts.

SB 438, a bill introduced in February 2015, aims to provide further governance infrastructure for the $10 million being spent. The bill will move on to Legislature with a deadline of Aug. 31 and will then be signed by the governor Sept. 30 at the latest if it is successful.

“(ShakeAlert has) advanced to a point where it’s a permanent system to have in place,” said Tina Curry, a deputy director within the Office of Emergency Services. “Now’s the time to put everything behind it.”

Contact Lillian Dong at [email protected].