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Lawmaker proposes early warning system for quakes

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 28th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Imagine if you could have a few seconds warning before a deadly earthquake strikes. One California lawmaker wants to make this a reality for citizens of his quake-prone state and has proposed a bill to do just that.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - State Sen. Alex Padilla, (D-Pacoima) is presenting a bill today that would install earthquake early warning systems across the state. Such a system could provide as much as 60 seconds of warning before shaking starts.

Earthquake early warning systems have already been tested and deployed in Japan and India, and a system built by researchers has also been tested in California, with success.

Earthquake early warning systems should not be confused with earthquake prediction, which scientists say is still elusive knowledge.

Early warning systems detect the initial signs that an earthquake has started and using high-speed computers and communications, they can send a warning that a devastating quake is about to strike on the surface. That warning, traveling electronically, can trigger an audible alarm several seconds before the seismic waves arrive, the farther from the epicenter, the greater the warning time.

At best, such systems can provide up to a minute of warning, although more typically, they only provide a few seconds, averaging closer to ten.

Ten seconds may not sound like much, but it is enough time for people to duck and cover and for trains and automobiles to stop. That much warning time is all that is needed to make the difference between life and death, possibly for hundreds of people.

In Japan, such systems have achieved an 85 percent reliability rating, and that rating improves as the detection software is enhanced.

"A fully developed earthquake early warning system would provide Californians critical seconds to take cover, assist loved ones, pull to the side of the road, or exit a building,'' Padilla told reporters. "It could allow time to stop a train or power down other critical infrastructure.''

It is unknown how, if the bill passes, the system would be implemented.

California has been lucky, with potentially deadly quakes now missing densely-populated urban centers for two decades. However, scientists warn than as more time passes without quakes to relieve stress on the network of faults under California, it becomes increasingly likely that a single, large quake will happen. When that day comes - and it will, it is hoped that California is as prepared as it can be for the sake of millions of people.

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