West Coast lawmakers ask Obama for $16.1 million to complete earthquake early warning system

The lawmakers note that Congress, in providing funding for the system for the previous two fiscal years, has recognized the need for implementation of an Earthquake Early Warning System and provided funding for its development and implementation along the western coast of the United States.

Schiff, who helped secure the funding in both FY 2015 and 2016 for a west coast earthquake early warning system in Congress, commented: “I am encouraged that the support for the west coast Earthquake Early Warning System is growing. Every day, we are one day closer to the inevitable ‘big one,’ and this technology, once implemented, will be an invaluable tool to save lives and property.”

Kilmer commented: “We are pushing the President to make this project a top priority because it’s important to the future of the communities we represent on the West Coast. We need an updated and operational Earthquake Early Warning System to serve as eyes and ears and give folks more time if a large quake strikes.”

“Earthquake early warning is everyone’s concern,” said Caltech president Thomas Rosenbaum, “and we are very fortunate to have Adam Schiff’s strong support  for moving a west coast warning system closer to implementation.”

“The University of Washington and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network appreciate the strong support of Congress in securing funding to help this important work to continue. Earthquake Early Warning is invaluable to protect the millions of Americans living and working across the Pacific Northwest,” said John Vidale, the director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “Additional funding will help deploy this system across the region and give individuals from thirty seconds to five minutes of warning for many dangerous earthquake to find cover, ready emergency response, secure data and assets, and prepare for approaching earthquake shaking. We thank Congressman Kilmer for his many years of efforts to increase EEW funding.”

The Times writes that the funds would continue research that the USGS already is doing with Caltech, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon.

In 2014, the system gave a 10-second warning before a magnitude 6.0 earthquake hit Napa. Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles began testing the system last week.

A recent study by a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge calculated a 99.9 percent chance of a large earthquake in the Los Angeles area in the next three years, but the USGS has questioned that conclusion.

Regardless if you accept the conclusions of that report, it’s undeniable: We are going to have a massive earthquake, it is just a question of when and whether we’ll be ready,” Schiff told the Times. “I think it’s really negligent of us not to move forward.”

Schiff noted that it is estimated it would take another $38 million to finish building the early warning system and about $16 million annually to run and maintain it. Schiff added that West Coast states which would benefit from the warning system need to help foot the bill.

This can’t be a federal government-only effort. The primary beneficiaries are going to be the Western states. They really need to step up to the plate and make their own investments as well,” Schiff said.

Full text of the letter is below: 

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

As you prepare your Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 Budget for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), we strongly urge you to request increased funding for USGS’s earthquake-related programs, including $16.1 million for the development and operation of an on-shore West Coast Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) System.

Earthquake Early Warning is proven technology that is already fully operational in countries including Japan and Mexico. USGS, in conjunction with the California Institute of Technology; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Washington; and the University of Oregon, is currently working to adapt the technology and has developed an on-shore prototype system for test users along the West Coast. The researchers are also working closely with key stakeholders, including the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in San Francisco and Boeing and Microsoft in the Pacific Northwest, to test and provide feedback on what will be a very valuable system.

The 2014 magnitude 6.0 earthquake in Napa, California that caused an estimated $300 million in damages is just one reminder of how important it is that the United States has a robust Earthquake Early Warning system.  More recently, national media has reported on the prospects of a magnitude 9 earthquake in the Pacific Northwest and the utility of a warning system. When such an event occurs, it will be one of the most serious disasters the United States has faced. Once fully operational, EEW will provide critical time — from a few seconds to minutes — to take protective action. In fact, the Puget Sound and Portland would receive 1 to 5 minutes of warning — warning that will save lives.

Even with just seconds of warning before shaking begins, automated steps can be taken to prevent casualties and mitigate destruction, including slowing or stopping trains; turning off oil and natural gas pipelines; shutting down large manufacturing equipment; stopping elevators and opening their doors; and securing sensitive computer data.

The effectiveness of EEW depends on the number and placement of sensors to ensure that there is adequate coverage wherever an earthquake may hit — and this requires additional resources. Congress recognizes the value of this system and has demonstrated its commitment to providing additional resources for EEW by including funding in the FY2015 Omnibus Appropriations Act and continued funding support in the House and Senate FY2016 Interior Appropriations bills.

While we appreciate past investments in earthquake programs and recognize the inclusion of EEW in your FY2016 Budget, full funding of EEW is critical. Therefore, we urge you to request in your FY2017 Budget $16.1 million for the development of this system so that the West Coast will be prepared for the next catastrophic earthquake. It is important, however, that this EEW funding does not detract from other earthquake hazards programs, as this research works hand-in-hand with the EEW. This is proven technology that will save lives and reduce the economic impact of an earthquake; it simply needs to be properly funded.

Thank you for considering our request.


[Signed, thirty-six members of Congress]