LOS ANGELES -

Federal funding was approved Tuesday for an early warning system in earthquake-prone regions of the Southland and elsewhere.

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee voted to include $5 million in the Interior and Environment Appropriations bill for the system. It is the first time Congress has provided money specifically for such a system, which would cost $16.1 million per year to build, operate and maintain, according to Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, who led the funding effort.

The money would enable the developer of a statewide system to begin buying and installing more sensors and hire new staffers, Schiff said.

``It's critical that the West Coast implement an earthquake early warning system that will give us a heads up before the `big one' hits, so we can save lives and protect infrastructure,'' Schiff said.

``We are constantly reminded of our vulnerability -- with tremors, earthquakes and aftershocks rattling our homes and businesses -- and even a few seconds of warning will allow people to seek cover, automatically slow or stop trains, pause surgeries and more,'' he said. ``This first phase of funding will allow the work to begin expanding the system, and we will continue to work to secure future funding along with our other federal, state and local partners.''

A limited system developed by Caltech, UC Berkeley and the University of Washington, in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey, has proven that the technology is sound, Schiff said.

``Caltech and its partners are very grateful that the House of Representatives is sending a strong signal of support for implementation of an earthquake early warning for the West Coast," said Caltech President Thomas F. Rosenbaum. ``We look forward to moving ahead with this critical technology over the next few years."

The appropriations bill states that the funds will allow scientists to ``transition the earthquake early warning demonstration project into an operational capability on the West Coast.''