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California earthquakes: Experts want early-warning system [Video Discussion]

January 29, 2013 |  2:23 pm

A group of California's top geophysicists and seismologists announced an $80-million plan to create an earthquake early warning system in California.

Times Staff Writer Rong-Gong Lin II will discuss how the warning system would work during a live video chat at 3 p.m.

It would be the first such network in the United States and marks an ambitious new safety initiative by some of California's top state and federal earthquake experts.

The U.S. is behind Japan as well as Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey and even Romania in creating early alert systems. Last year, residents in Mexico City were warned shortly before the shaking from a 7.4 quake that began near Acapulco arrived.

State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) is proposing legislation to create the statewide network. California already has hundreds of ground sensors measuring movement, but experts said another $80 million is needed to expand and upgrade the monitors. They said the system could be up and running in two years if funding is found.

An early warning system could be particularly beneficial in Southern California, which is at risk of a major temblor on the San Andreas Fault. The San Andreas is located far enough away from metropolitan Los Angeles that officials believe residents would have a one-minute warning of the huge quake.

If a temblor erupted near the Salton Sea, for instance, underground sensors along the San Andreas would send off an alert to points north and west, covering population centers in Los Angeles and San Diego. Experts said this would give time to shut off utilities, prepare emergency response personnel and slow trains.

A study released in January was the latest of many to predict a catastrophic quake on the San Andreas. This report, for the first time, raised the possibility of a mega quake across the entire fault line that would be felt from San Francisco to San Diego.

Padilla said it's time for California to build its own system, adding that $80 million is a bargain compared with the billions of dollars in damage the system could prevent.

"Think of the lives we could save. The injuries we can reduce. And the billions upon billions of damage.... If we can just reduce that by a small percentage, or a fraction, the system would more than pay for itself," Padilla said.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II and Rosanna Xia