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Trump Proposes Cutting Millions From Earthquake Early Warning System Development

MENLO PARK (KPIX 5) – Scientists are getting close to providing us with a warning just before an earthquake hits, but their efforts are running out of money and they are not getting any help from the White House.

The Earthquake Early Warning system is already making a huge difference. Just Friday, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook the state of Oaxaca south of Mexico City. But alerts gave residents a crucial 30 to 60 seconds to prepare.

Early Tuesday morning there was a saw a series of small quakes in the East Bay. They hit near Mount Diablo and Danville.

No damage was reported but the conversation on Earthquake Early Warning systems is top of mind.

The USGS has slowly, but steadily been installing earthquake sensors along all the major faults in the Bay Area. And launch day is just around the corner.

Dave Croker with the USGS said, "The Bay Area, we believe, has dense enough station coverage that we can do limited public alerting later in the year."

The West Coast has about 850 sensors, which is roughly half the number the USGS says they need.

If or when the funding ever comes through, the number of sensors in Northern California would expand greatly.

It would take another $60 million or so to get the whole system up and running at 100 percent, covering Washington, Oregon, and California.

Once it's done, third party app developers will take the data, and use it to warn the public that a quake is about to hit, and evacuate.

Train operators can stop service. Elevators can safely position themselves, and so on.

A few seconds warning can make all the difference.

Other countries have proven it works. Mexico's early warning system was captured in action last week on a webcam, which showed people rushing into a public square nearly two minutes before the shock waves hit.

Only four other countries in the world have an early warning system: China, Turkey, Taiwan and Japan.

As for the USGS, there's enough federal and state funding to continue developing the system until the end of 2018 fiscal year this fall.

Croker said, "Beyond that, all bets are off."

President Donald Trump's most recent budget proposal has zeroed out nearly $13 million in funding for the Earthquake Early Warning system, and staffing, citing the need to "address higher priorities."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) said, "It's very, I think, a deep disservice to the people all along the West Coast for the Trump administration to zero this out."

Schiff says the last time this happened, Republicans and Semocrats actually banded together.

"This has happened before, last year they zeroed it out and on a very bipartisan basis, this Congress said, nope, this is important, we're going to fund it and we did," Schiff said. "So I'm optimistic we'll once again be able to restore this funding."

So the USGS is under a lot of pressure to get this right.

A limited public roll-out of the Earthquake Early Warning system is expected to happen this fall.

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