UC Berkeley hosts conference on earthquake early-warning system

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Legislators and researchers evaluated ways of implementing a public earthquake early-alerting mechanism in California on the first day of a UC Berkeley-hosted conference Wednesday, which came in the wake of the recent 6.1 magnitude earthquake in Napa Valley.

The first day of the third International Conference on Earthquake Early Warning  — which runs through Friday — featured lectures addressing ways of enacting a statewide warning system in California from a public policy perspective and hosted prominent legislators including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and State Senator Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima.

Challenges to establishing such a system in California include inconsistent funding at the state and federal level, according to Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

In California, the expected cost of building and operating a statewide early-warning system for five years is $80 million, whereas the cost of developing such a system for the West Coast is estimated to be about $120 million.

UC Berkeley researchers were able to detect the Napa earthquake 10 seconds before it happened using a system called ShakeAlert. But because of a lack of funding, ShakeAlert is not accessible to the public, despite having about 150 subscribers that include BART and UCPD.

“The most important thing is, don’t wait and implement,” Lee said, explaining that tens of thousands of lives have been lost in countries that experienced catastrophic earthquakes before warning systems were implemented.

To push for such a system, Padilla authored Senate Bill 135, which requires the Office of Emergency Services to develop a comprehensive statewide early-warning system for earthquakes. The bill was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year.

Padilla also organized a bipartisan coalition of state legislators to advocate for federal funding and pushed for warning system funding in the state water bond that will be on November’s ballot.

Private sector businesses — including those in utilities and transportation — have also shown significant interest in funding such systems, Ghilarducci said.

According to Newsom, the establishment of an early-warning system in California is long overdue. Countries such as China, Mexico and Romania already have such systems in place, he added.

“The return on this investment is incalculable,” Newsom said.

Over the next two days, the conference will discuss the science and engineering of early-warning technology, as well as best practices for implementing the system.


Contact Nico Correia at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @nicolocorreia.