Early earthquake warning system bill heads to Governor

Quake Warning System Bill Passes in CA State Assembly

PALM DESERT, Calif. - California is now just a signature away from an early earthquake warning system.  Thursday night the State Assembly passed a bill that promises to pave the way. 

The technology to warn us before the next big one is here, but the problem is finding the millions of dollars to build a statewide system. 

Now with this bill, if the governor signs it, would make finding a solution a priority.   The first place they are expected to look  is right here in the Coachella Valley.

We've all felt the shaking and seen the destruction seismic activity can cause. But what if you had an extra 20, 30 even 60 seconds before the shaking starts to take cover?

In Japan, those extra seconds were the difference between life and death.  An early warning system brought bullet trains to a stop, and allowed businesses to shut down critical systems all before the shaking started.

"if you are a hospital and you are about to cut into somebody, it's limiting risk, you are going to pull away, you are going to shutdown systems," said CVAG management analyst Jacob Alvarez.

Now it's technology California is working to implement. 

"The biggest challenge has been the funds. It's been the funding, once we have the funding in place its a go, and with budgets restricted from state to federal to local, it's become a real big challenge," said Alvarez.

However, the Coachella Valley Association of Governments has found a way to dramatically reduce costs by including the private sector. 

"Once we begin to implement then the private side would sell subscriptions to retail to hospitals and from there that is where earthquake warning would be distributed to those who subscribe," said Alvarez. 

That money from the subscriptions would supplement the cost for outfitting schools, police and fire stations with the warning system instead of costing local governments. 

The early earthquake warning system is already up and running in the Coachella Valley in about a dozen different firehouses. It will sense what is known as the P waves, that happens about 30 seconds before the actually shaking of an earthquake starts.  When it's sensed, the warning system will automatically open up the garage doors, protecting all of the fire equipment inside. 

In 2010 firefighters in Calexico had to waste precious time freeing their trucks after a 7.2 quake struck the region. 

"More importantly keep our firefighters and first responders safe so they can respond to a major event," said Alvarez. 

To make this a reality statewide, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 135, requiring the Office of Emergency Services to create the warning system with a public private partnership instead of waiting for government funding that may never arrive. 

"Public private partnerships are working well where we are and they should be including and they are now in the bill.  I think it's good for California that they put a system in place to detect these earthquakes.  They can obviously put a lot of damage and loss of life and tremendous cost," said Assemblyman Brian Nestande.

There is a deadline,the bill will expire January 1st of 2016.  That's less than three years to come up with the approximately $80 million it will take to make a statewide early warning system happen.  

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