Local Senator proposes $80 million earthquake alert system

ReAnne Rogers

After parts of CSUN were destroyed and rebuilt as a result of the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the university may take interest in a proposal for a new earthquake alert system.

Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) is proposing legislation to fund a plan for a more efficient earthquake alert system with an $80 million price tag.

At Padilla’s Caltech news conference, he was adamant about the implementation of the system.

“California is going to have an earthquake early warning system,” Padilla said. “The question is whether we have one before or after the next big quake.”

Padilla proposed the bill after he visited Caltech’s earthquake center. Geologists were waiting for federal approval to upgrade the current system, so he felt the need to take action by seeking state funding.

There is currently a network of underground sensors to measure ground movement, known as the California Integrated Seismic Network. It has stations and underground sensors installed all across the coast, from the bay to Southern California, as well as along transportation systems throughout the state.

The seismic network has nearly 1,000 stations, but they are older and cannot be used to properly alert people ahead of time.

About 400 stations would need to be upgraded and about 200 new stations would need to be added, according to Lucy Jones, U.S. Geological Survey science adviser for risk reduction.

Jones said if California were to build a new system instead of altering the current system, it would cost significantly more. She added that Japan spent $600 million building its own system.

Since California sits on the San Andreas Fault, it is at a higher risk than other states for earthquakes with higher magnitudes. The fault’s proximity to Los Angeles would allow for an alert system to give residents an alert in the form of a text message no more than 60 seconds before the shaking would begin in the given area.

“(The alert system) would provide Californians critical seconds to take cover, assist loved ones, pull to the side of the road or exit a building,” Padilla said.

The implementation of the proposed system would be at no cost to the CSU system.

“(The earthquake system) should get both state and federal funding,” said Doug Yule, geography professor. “An earthquake in California will effect the entire country.”

He added that it would help prevent more damage than the initial quake would cause.

“It could give people a chance to get to a safe place, and more importantly can give people and emergency planners time,” Yule said. “Freight companies can stop freight trains, the gas company can shut down gas lines, the electric company can shut down the grid. That can be a big help when recovering from the earthquake.”

Geology department administrative assistant, Perla Vielma, agreed the earthquake system deserves nationwide attention.

“If the (notification system) could get funding from the federal government that would be nice,” Vielma said.

Despite already having a system in effect, Padilla is hoping to upgrade the current network to alert more residents.

“The beauty of it is that anyone and everyone will (be alerted),” Padilla said. “Whether at home or in classrooms, they can take better cover.”

Although safety and injury prevention could come from this new legislation, others are not too thrilled at the idea of this new system.

“I think that it is a waste of money, because 60 seconds is not enough time for people to prepare,” said Jasmine Green, 22, economics major. “What if my phone is in the bedroom? By the time I get to it, the earthquake will have already happened.”

Countries like Japan, Taiwan, Italy and China all are ahead of California with the earthquake alert systems having been implemented years ago. Mexico’s system warned citizens of a 7.4 earthquake near Acapulco last year.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, California has more than a 99 percent chance of having a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake within the next 30 years.

The odds of having a major quake of magnitude 7.5 or greater in the next 30 years is 46 percent. It has been predicted that it will occur in the southernmost part of the state.