Still, Heaton said the system’s real value is in serving as a command-and-control center that can relay messages to other automated systems such as trains, slowing them down and avoiding further damage even if the shaking has already begun.
“It’s important for people to keep this in perspective,” he said. “It’s a new kind of tool, but it’s not a panacea.”
Mexico’s system — developed after a 1985 quake that killed thousands — only measures quakes on the country’s West Coast and alerts a limited area, Heaton said. Japan’s system is countrywide and more similar to what California is pursuing.
During the 2011 Japanese disaster, millions of people received 5 to 40 seconds of warning depending on how far they were from the epicenter. The notices were sent to cellphones and broadcast over airwaves.
In a bill authored by Padilla and signed by the governor last year, California directed the state’s Office of Emergency Services to identify sources of funding for an early-warning system and develop it. The money cannot come from state general funds but doesn’t specify alternatives.
Mark Ghilarducci, the officer’s director, said Sunday that officials are looking at two-year time frame to get the system in place.
“We have been working diligently on implementing an earthquake early warning program throughout the state,” he said. “The system does have validity.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein released a statement Monday, calling for “political resolve to deploy such a system.”
She continued, “Officials in Washington and along the West Coast should partner with the private sector to make an interoperable earthquake early-warning system a reality, and we should do so as soon as possible before a much larger earthquake strikes.”