Push for statewide earthquake early warning system could benefit San Diego more than expected

System may cost $80M to install

SAN DIEGO - An early warning system for earthquakes in California is closer to becoming a reality.

On Monday, State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) introduced legislation to install such a system at an initial cost of about $80 million. However, he said the state can't afford not to install a system.

"With a small investment, we can minimize the injuries, the fatalities and the costs," Padilla ssaid.

In 1994, the Northridge earthquake left 60 dead and caused about $13 billion in damage.

Now, imagine the destruction of a mega-quake stretching the roughly 750 miles of the San Andreas fault, about 80 miles from San Diego. Once not considered possible, a recent study shows that kind of quake could happen.

"Eighty miles, 90 miles away, you could have 30, 35 seconds of warning," explained geologist Pat Abbott, Ph.D.

The farther away, the more warning time, and Abbott said the system works by sensing movement. The back-and-forth shifts cause faster-moving waves, which will be detected first. That is when the alarm sounds, just before the next wave of much more damaging up-and-down movement arrives.

"Thirty seconds of warning from the biggest earthquake we might experience, that's significant." said Abbott.

Seconds are enough to stop a train, shut down a nuclear reactor or halt a delicate surgery, but the system would not work everywhere.

In downtown San Diego, underneath the area in front of the police station runs the Rose Canyon Fault. If a quake were to start in that general area, an early warning system wouldn't help residents living anywhere near there.

"If you're within 20 miles of the epicenter, there's not enough time to do anything," said Abbott. "Both San Francisco and Los Angeles are in worse shape than us because the biggest faults run right through the city limits."

A system that could save lives, Abbott said, would be worth it.

"I'd appreciate any warning I could get," Abbott told 10News.

Certain organizations and universities are already using detection equipment, 10News learned.

The legislation seeks to connect existing and additional censors to a central network, and the hope is to have funding by August.

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