Hill, Gray & Hertzberg Applaud Governor's $10M Funding Commitment to California's Earthquake Early Warning System

May 13, 2016

News Release – May 13, 2016 – For Immediate Release
Offices of State Senator Jerry Hill, Assemblymember Adam Gray and Senator Robert Hertzberg
Contacts: Leslie Guevarra, Office of Senator Hill, cell 415-298-3404
Trent Hager, Office of Assemblymember Gray, 916-319-2021
Andrew LaMar, Office of Senator Robert Hertzberg, 916-651-4018

Hill, Gray & Hertzberg Applaud Governor for Funding Commitment to California’s Earthquake Early Warning System
Governor’s May Revision Budget Includes $10 Million for the System

Sacramento – State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties), Assemblymember Adam Gray (D-Merced) and Senator Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) applaud Governor Jerry Brown for his commitment today to start funding a statewide earthquake early warning system that would help save lives and protect the public before temblors strike. Governor Brown announced his May Revision to the State Budget this morning, and he includes $10 million to fund the system as part of the revision.

Earlier this year, Senator Hill, Assemblymember Gray and Senator Hertzberg introduced legislation with a bipartisan group of coauthors to provide $23.1 million in funding for the system. The bills are SB 438 (Hill and Hertzberg) and AB 1346 (Gray). The three legislators also wrote a bipartisan budget request letter, signed by 25 other legislators, to seek funding.

The mandate to create the statewide earthquake warning system has been on the books since 2013, when then-Senator Alex Padilla’s SB 135 was signed by the Governor. Senator Padilla introduced the bill with the intent that it be funded by public-private partnerships. Those partnerships and funding have yet to materialize.

“This $10 million would go a long way in fulfilling our primary responsibility of protecting the public,” said Senator Hill. “I’m pleased that Governor Brown recognizes that there’s no valid reason not to make this relatively small investment in a statewide earthquake early warning system that has the potential to save lives and prevent injuries. We owe it to Californians to get this system up and running as soon as possible and this funding will help us do so.”

“Funding programs that keep our constituents safer should be a top priority for the Legislature,” said Assemblymember Gray. “The Earthquake Early Warning System will protect property, mitigate systemic damage, and above all save lives in the event of an earthquake. I’m happy to see that the Administration has decided to fund this important program.”

“The governor’s proposed funding for an earthquake early warning system is a big step in the right direction,” Hertzberg said. “This is basic common sense, to put the latest technology to work to protect lives. And every day we seem to learn more about the ominous danger of California’s earthquake faults. We know, as one expert recently said, that the San Andreas fault is ‘locked, loaded and ready to go.’ ”

“While we are excited the administration has decided to fund this important public safety technology, we still need to focus on how to fund the system on an ongoing basis,” added all three legislators. “It is incumbent on the legislature to continue to monitor the progress of private and public funding and assist in the successful implementation of an Earthquake Early Warning System that will save lives.”

The early warning system is essential in California, which is the second-most seismologically active state in the country, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Only Alaska has more earthquake activity.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $3.5 billion (66 percent) of the annual monetary losses resulting from earthquakes occur in California.

Seismologists have warned that the state is due for another big earthquake. The most recent Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, published in March 2015, predicts that there is 99.7 percent likelihood of an earthquake with a magnitude 6.7 or greater in California in the next 30 years. There is a 93 percent chance there will be an earthquake with a 7.0 magnitude or greater.

Background:

An earthquake early warning system uses a series of sensors in the ground to detect shaking and disseminate warnings up to 60 seconds before the shaking occurs. While the warning may only be moments before shaking occurs, it can have many benefits by:

• Providing time for residents to drop and cover,

• Enabling passenger and commuter trains to come to a complete stop or slow down to prevent derailment,

• Alerting doctors performing surgeries to stop delicate procedures, and

• Triggering elevators to automatically stop at the nearest floor and open their doors to enable passengers to exit.

Other automated responses could include fire station garage doors opening when warnings occur so doors don’t jam during earthquakes. Businesses could shut off equipment or put crucial operations into safe mode to protect workers and facilities

A prototype earthquake early warning system, called ShakeAlert, is currently in place. ShakeAlert is a partnership between the USGS, UC Berkeley, CalTech, and the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. The system is funded largely by the USGS ($9 million) and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation ($10 million). ShakeAlert is comprised of about 400 sensors throughout the state, but is limited to sending alerts to participating program partners, such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system.

ShakeAlert does not provide earthquake warnings to the public or on a statewide basis because its network of sensors and connectivity are not capable of disseminating alerts on a broad scale. California, through the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Geological Survey, provides $5.2 million to operate a network of seismic sensors, called the California Integrated Seismic Network, which collects earthquake shaking information to supplement ShakeAlert.

SB 135 in 2013 was intended to expand the prototype, but adequate funding has not been obtained. The USGS estimates that up to $23.1 million in additional funding is needed for one-time start-up costs, and another $11.4 million is needed for ongoing maintenance and operation costs.

Last December, the federal government provided another $8.2 million for earthquake early warning systems with the sum to be split up between California, Washington and Oregon. But the state of California has yet to provide any additional funding beyond what it already provides for seismic sensors, because current law prohibits the use of General Fund dollars.

The funding provided in the Governor’s May Revision would be used to help launch the comprehensive warning system.

When the Napa earthquake struck in August 2014, ShakeAlert provided BART with a 10-second warning. Had BART been running at the time (the earthquake struck in the early morning before trains were operating), the system would have automatically slowed down or come to a complete stop when the alert was received.

Several other countries have already implemented earthquake early warning systems. After the 1995 Kobe earthquake that killed more than 6,400 people, Japan implemented a warning system that went on line in 2007. The system helped save lives during the disastrous 2011 earthquake, which led to the closure of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. After more than 10,000 people died in the 1991 Mexico City earthquake, Mexico implemented an early warning system as well.

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