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Sen. Feinstein Leads Bipartisan Lawmakers Urging FCC To Protect ShakeAlert Earthquake Warnings

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF/AP) - Northern California Senator Dianne Feinstein is leading a bipartisan group of Congressional members urging the federal government to ensure changes to the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system don't slow down ShakeAlert earthquake warnings.

The USGS developed the ShakeAlert system to send rapid public alerts warning users along the West Coast about ground shaking from a nearby earthquake.

Feinstein (D-CA) and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, along with 18 members of Congress signed the letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai.

The FCC plans to include quake alerts as part of the WEA system for notifying Americans about emergencies like dangerous weather, fires, and shooters.

Tuesday's letter urges Pai to make sure that any changes account for cellphone network latency -- delays in data transmission as the signal jumps between cell towers.


"The recent earthquake that shook the Puget Sound region is just the latest reminder that our region is prone to dangerous seismic activity, and it's critical our emergency response systems are well-equipped to provide timely and effective early warnings," Cantwell said in a statement.

The letter explains how other areas, like Los Angeles and Barstow, would have had a :15 to :48 second advance warning of the recent earthquakes near the town of Ridgecrest. One of them, a 7.1 magnitude quake, was the strongest to hit California in 20 years.

The lawmakers fear the alert times would be reduced "by WEA delivery latency."

"The success of earthquake early warning relies on extremely rapid, low-latency alert times. As a result the recent changes to the WEA system to better geo-fence wildfire and other emergency alerts could unintentionally delay notifications and severely weaken the effectiveness of the ShakeAlert system."

Citing recent quakes in Washington and California, the lawmakers said, "the effectiveness of earthquake early alerts to our constituents is more critical than ever."

Presidential hopeful, Senator Kamala Harris and House Minority Leader, Senator Kevin McCarthy were among the lawmakers who signed the letter.

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