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California's quake alerts get major upgrade

December 17, 2009 |  8:21 am
Upgrading seismic equipment

Officials are upgrading hundreds of seismic monitors throughout California, installing new devices that seismologists say will vastly improve the state's system for detecting and warning of major earthquakes.

The changes will allow first responders, scientists and eventually the public to be notified of an earthquake five seconds faster than is possible now. Those precious seconds could allow emergency officials to shut off gas and water lines, raise fire station doors, stop subway operations and possibly even warn the public of shaking to come.

"I'm confident that if we had the information, we could use it to our advantage," said Tom Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center. "The main issue here is to have our communities be resilient to earthquake damage."

Shock waves from a quake move quickly through the ground, but electronic signals are far faster, allowing a warning to outrun a temblor. The new monitoring would be particularly helpful for earthquakes that originate outside urban areas -- along the San Andreas fault, for example -- and radiate into major cities.

Read the full story here.

-- Cara Mia DiMassa

Photo: David Johnson, a Caltech instrumentation specialist, this month hauls 20-year-old seismic monitoring equipment out of an old Nike missile site atop a high bluff in Rancho Palos Verdes. New systems are being installed across Southern California. Credit: Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times