Trump Administration Wants to Defund Earthquake Warning System Being Developed by Caltech, Other Universities

Published : Monday, February 26, 2018 | 6:53 PM

ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning system for the U.S. West Coast developed by the U.S. Geological Survey in collaboration with several California and university partners, could lose funding if Congress does not vote to continue supporting the system for fiscal year 2018-2019, a National Coordinator for the program based in Pasadena confirmed recently.

The system, which is set to begin limited public notifications in 2018, could provide as much as tens of seconds of warning to people and automated systems before strong shaking arrives.

ShakeAlert has been sending live alerts to “beta” users in California since January of 2012 and in the Pacific Northwest since February of 2015, USGS said.

“California has been in this much longer than the Pacific Northwest has, so we’re much more worked out than they are,” Robert de Groot, ShakeAlert’s National Coordinator for Communication, Education, and Outreach at the USGS Earthquake Science Center in Pasadena, tells UC Berkeley-based The Daily Californian. “We’re about 48 percent of the way there, so there are 859 (seismometer) stations currently.”

President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would remove the approximately $13 million of funding currently allocated to earthquake warnings. Trump’s administration last year also attempted but failed to defund earthquake warning systems.

“This same thing happened to us last year when Trump zeroed out the budget, and we got bipartisan support to get the funding reinstated. So we’re hopeful for the same thing to occur this year,” Jennifer Strauss, UC Berkeley Seismological Lab external relations officer, said in the Daily Californian report.

ShakeAlert, as envisioned, could rapidly detect and analyze an earthquake as soon as it begins, and could send out an alert in seconds. The system covers California, Oregon and Washington.

Straus said false alarms are still a possibility with ShakeAlert, but they could be a good opportunity to practice earthquake drills.

ShakeAlert currently costs $16 million a year to maintain, the USGS said. Strauss said upfront capital costs are currently $38 million, but maintenance costs could increase with the expansion in training, long-term personnel costs and a more robust infrastructure.

If the Trump administration succeeds in defunding earthquake warning systems, ShakeAlert could either shut down or be scaled back considerably, de Groot said.

To learn more about ShakeAlert, visit









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