UC Berkeley working to build earthquake warning system

UC Berkeley is working on an earthquake warning system that would send an alert to your cellphone seconds before an earthquake hits.
April 21, 2014 6:28:11 PM PDT
UC Berkeley has been working for years to build an earthquake warning system on the West Coast. The same kind of system that helped prevent Mexico's 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Friday from landing a bigger punch than it did.

California still doesn't have one of these systems in place. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that mandates California build one of these systems, however that bill did not include anything about funding. Now, there's the big hurdle of trying to find someone, be it the federal government, private partnerships or anyone willing to pay for this sytem to get into place.

During the earthquake of 1989, Jennifer Ham felt walls coil and crawl.

"It was just a rocking, shaking, very powerful motion," she said.

Like everyone else, she reacted as the rumble hit her feet. But it doesn't have to be that way.

In Mexico City, residents had about a minute to prepare for a 7.2 shake thanks to an early earthquake warning system.

"It's disappointing, we're way behind," UC Berkeley Seismological Lab Director Richard Allen said.

Japan, Turkey, and Romania all have similar or more advanced earthquake warning systems.

In California, we have a mandate to build one, but no funding to do so.

"It's all about the Benjamins. We need a little bit more funding," Seismological Lab spokesperson Jennifer Strauss said.

Right now, the UC Berkeley Seismological Lab has a test version of what the earthquake warning system would look like.

The system would send an alert to your cellphone, giving you precious seconds to find safety.

Strauss says it would cost about $82 million up front to build and $12 million annually to maintain.

"We are hopeful that through some mechanism, we will get the funding and the state of California will be covered," Strauss said.

"If we have a big earthquake, we would build it immediately, so we really don't want to wait, we want to go ahead, we want to get it built now and then everybody will get a warning before the next big earthquake," Allen said.

If a quake like 1989 hits first, hindsight will not be kind.

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