California quake hastens calls for warning system

2014-08-27 20:39
A  damaged building in Napa, California.

A damaged building in Napa, California.

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Napa - The earthquake that jolted California's wine capital may have caused at least $1bn in property damage, but it also added impetus to the state's effort to develop an early warning system that might offer a few precious seconds for residents to duck under desks, trains to slow down and utility lines to be powered down before the seismic waves reach them.

California's senior senator, Democrat Dianne Feinstein, joined a chorus of renewed calls on Monday for the quick deployment of a quake activity alert system such as the ones already in operation in Mexico and Japan.

"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," Feinstein said.

Such a system may be closer to reality than most Californians realize, though it's still years away. A bill signed by Gov Jerry Brown last year ordered his Office of Emergency Services to develop a comprehensive state wide system and by 2016, identify sources of funding for it. An early-warning system would cost an estimated $80m.

The office's director, Mark Ghiladucci said on Monday that he pictures a network, financed with both private and public money, made up of a government "backbone" and supplemented with data from private sources in more remote areas.

Richard Allen, director of the University of California, Berkeley, Seismological Lab, said his lab received a 10-second advance warning of light shaking when the seismic waves from Sunday's quake arrived there. Allen is among the researchers testing the earthquake warning system that is not yet available for public use, but is envisioned as the basis for the state's system.

The magnitude-6.0 tremor was centred near the city of Napa and caused several injuries, left four mobile homes destroyed by gas-fed fires and damaged wineries, historic buildings and hotels. The area has experienced dozens of aftershocks since, the largest of which was a 3.9-magnitude quake that struck at 05:33 on Tuesday about 11km south of the city of Napa.

Allen, of the UC Berkeley Seismological Lab, said even though Berkeley is about 64km from the quake's epicentre and did not experience any damage during Sunday's quake, in a more violent tremor, 10 seconds could have made a big difference.

"A few seconds means that you can move to your safe zone, that you can get under that sturdy table; that way you are not going to be injured by falling fireplaces and ceiling lights. We see a large number of injuries resulting from these kinds of incidents."

The systems can't predict quakes, and are not effective at the epicentre, where the tremors go out almost simultaneously. The warning people receive - a few seconds to tens of seconds - depends on the distance from the epicentre.

Napa would have received at most a second of warning if California already had a system in place, said Thomas Heaton, a professor of engineering seismology at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

"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."

Read more on:    us  |  earthquakes

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.