Every second counts before a quake

In Opinion
Courtesy of MCT

How prepared are you for the next big California earthquake? I’m slightly prepared; I have a backpack in my living room filled with a few bottles of water, food for my dogs, a jacket and some canned food. I remember from elementary school days to drop and cover my head under a table or desk.

But if you are like me and are only somewhat prepared, there is good news. Sen. Alex Padilla is suggesting an $80 million upgrade to an early warning system, QuakeGuard, that will be used statewide in California. According to the Los Angeles Times, the system utilizes underground sensors to detect P-waves in an earthquake. Within seconds, an alert is sent out to a person’s computer and mobile device.

As of now, the only way most people know that an earthquake occurred is by feeling it themselves or through social media posts. The state will benefit from a safer way to alert the public and, with the enhanced system, thousands of lives may be saved.

QuakeGuard was developed by Seismic Warning Systems. The company’s website says the alert system will give most people a 20-second warning that an earthquake is about to occur depending on the location of the quake.

You might think 20 seconds isn’t that much time to prepare, but actually, it is. In 20 seconds, an elementary school would have enough time to make sure children are inside and covered under a desk. Twenty seconds also gives hospitals enough time to move critically ill patients and gather supplies.

It’s difficult to imagine what would happen if a massive earthquake struck California since such quakes are rare, but if the “Big One” were to hit California without any type of initial warning, the state could be left with a noticeably greater amount of destruction and death.

Reuters reports that in 2008 a group of engineers and geophysicists developed a damage forecast for if such a quake were to ever occur. The report that found a 7.8 earthquake on the San Andreas Fault near Los Angeles would cause about 2,000 deaths and leave roughly 250,000 people homeless.

Even though California is in desperate need of funding programs, the state should have a large amount of money going towards disaster alert systems. The $80 million that scientists and Padilla are asking for to upgrade QuakeGuard will be well spent.

Several hospitals in California have already installed the system. The technology from QuakeGuard secures equipment, protects patient information stored on computers, helps elevators operate smoothly and allows hospitals to transfer over to emergency generators.

However, the company needs additional funds in order to establish these alterations in more hospitals.

Padilla is aware of how much money the alert system would be using, but understands the potential of QuakeGuard.

“Think of the lives we could save,” he said to the LA Times. “The injuries we can reduce. And the billions upon billions of damage … If we can just reduce that by a small percentage, or a fraction, the system would more than pay for itself.”

Some people have a problem with the early alert system, such as how all of the money will be spent and if it will actually work. There is no way to know for sure if QuakeGuard will work until California has a large earthquake. However, the state will be better off having the system in place than not having it at all.

Thomas Heaton, a Caltech professor of engineering seismology, said it best; “Once we get another large earthquake, I’m certain everybody would say, ‘We should’ve had it.’”

Experts believe California is long overdue for a colossal earthquake. The not knowing when the quake might occur can be scary, but the situation is a reality Californians must think about and prepare for. For the most part, I enjoy living in California, but if the state is able to progress with the early warning system, I would feel a lot safer here.

Until then, I will keep my backpack stocked and cautiously wait for the next big earthquake to strike.

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