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Defense Department, USGS to study Mexican earthquakes

October 19, 2011 |  3:53 pm

http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2010-04/53104682.jpg

The U.S. Geological Survey and Department of Defense on Wednesday announced a half-million-dollar investment to install earthquake-monitoring machines in the Mexicali and Tijuana areas after last year’s Mexicali earthquake revealed huge gaps in detecting tremors south of the border.

U.S. and Mexican officials, speaking at a news conference at the U.S. Geological Survey office in Pasadena, said the monitoring equipment is critical so that quake scientists can identify the worst hit areas quickly and tell authorities where to send emergency crews.

Outdated quake detection equipment in Mexico last year meant that hours went by before officials knew exactly where the worst-hit areas were located.

Officials are aiming to make U.S. and Mexican quake-monitoring systems compatible with each other. The upgraded Mexican system also could be used as a backup in the event the U.S. earthquake-monitoring system fails during a major quake.

U.S. quake experts were hampered last year in not immediately knowing exactly where the epicenter of the Easter Sunday quake was, or where exactly the aftershocks were located as they moved northward toward the United States.  This information can be critical in instances where a quake south of the border triggers aftershocks northward toward the L.A. area.

The $500,000 investment in the program came from the U.S. Northern Command, an arm of the Defense Department created after the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate natural disaster relief operations domestically and in neighboring countries.

The Mexican government is separately spending $50 million to upgrade its own earthquake-monitoring systems.

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-- Rong-Gong Lin II in Pasadena

Photo: Damage from the Mexicali earthquake.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

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