Whether it's a few seconds or as long as a minute, the consensus is it's better to have a little warning, than none at all when a big earthquake is about to hit.
"A few seconds of warning, you can get under a sturdy table and that means that you've just removed the hazard of falling lighting fixtures, ceiling tiles, which is what's most likely to injure you in an earthquake," said Richard Allen, Ph.D., from the UC Berkeley Seismological Lab.
As it is now in California, there are systems and sensors in place to predict earthquakes, and deliver warnings, but very few researchers and agencies have access to the information. The idea is to get the warning to everyone.
"Will it be sirens in tsunami-prone areas? Is it the emergency broadcast system on television and radio? Is it an app in our smart phone? I vote for all of the above strategy," said St. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima.
Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a bill by Padilla from Southern California, requiring the state to develop a statewide alert system, but the law didn't come with any funding, so finding private and public money is key.
Other countries, like Mexico and Japan, already have early warning systems that have proven effective in big events. In the Bay Area, BART already gets the notifications, allowing operators to slow or stop trains.
"The idea here is that you're going to get anywhere from a few seconds to even up to as far as 90 seconds of warning, depending on where you are in relation to the epicenter of the earthquake," said Mark Ghilarducci, the director of the California Office of Emergency Services.
The total cost of launching the program statewide and funding it for five years is estimated to be $80 million. With funding, experts say it could be up and running in two years.