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California gets $5M funding for quake warning system

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — California has received $5 million in congressional funding to roll out an earthquake warning system across California next year.

Scientists have long tried to make the public alert system, which provides several seconds of warning after a fault ruptures, available but their effort was hampered by funding problems. But on Saturday night, the U.S. Senate approved the allocation when it passed a $1.1 trillion spending bill, the Los Angeles Times reported.

California is behind Japan, Mexico and other earthquake-prone countries in developing a public alert system, which provides several seconds of warning after a fault ruptures — enough time for trains to brake, utilities to shut off gas lines or people to dive under a table until the shaking stops.

For the past several years, the U.S. Geological Survey and universities have tested a prototype that fires off alert to academics, select government agencies and a few private firms. But by next year, access will expand considerably, providing real-time tests that officials hope will identify glitches and help them improve the system.

A comprehensive statewide system would cost an estimated $80 million for the first five years of operation.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., called the $5 million in funding "a down payment," but said "more funding is necessary to complete the system."

"We must get it done before the next major earthquake strikes," she said in a statement.

U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) urged state governments and private companies to pitch in for the cost.

"I only hope we can get this done before we have a major earthquake," Schiff said.

Seismic early warning systems are designed to detect the first shock waves from a large jolt, calculate the strength and alert people before the slower but damaging waves spread.

The systems can't predict quakes and are most useful during big events where it would be meaningful to warn people far away to expect strong shaking, scientists said. If the San Andreas Fault suddenly broke, people living close to the epicenter won't receive any warning. But those living farther away would receive notice.

Several moderate earthquakes this year in Southern California produced successful early warnings. Officials testing the system in San Francisco got eight seconds of warning before strong shaking arrived from the 6.0 earthquake near Napa in August.

Officials plan to announce the funding at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena on Monday.

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