WASHINGTON (CBS SF) — Congress is expected to approve $5 million to expand an early earthquake warning system to the entire West Coast.

The California Institute of Technology, other west coast universities and the U.S. Geological Survey already developed a privately funded, limited-warning system that seismologists have used to detect recent earthquakes.

The system, which is made up of about 400 sensors in southern California, can give warnings from a few seconds to a minute before a quake hits, depending on the distance from the epicenter.

Hall Daily, Director of Government Relations at Caltech, told CBS Los Angeles that additional federal funding would allow seismologists to hire new staff, to begin purchasing and installing additional sensors up and down the West Coast and make other advancements.

California is decades behind other quake-prone regions with warning systems are in place. Mexico City had a 71 second warning ahead of a 7.2 quake that hit the capital. Their system has been in place for 21 years.

Senator Alex Padilla authored a bill that was passed last year authorizing the creation of the California system, including a central brain that could send out an emergency alert, but it hasn’t happened yet.

“Why we don’t have a system like this in place already is beyond me,” said Padilla.

The bill came with a caveat that the $80 million needed for the system couldn’t come from the state’s general fund.

“It’s really about time and money and opportunity and we’re leveraging that as we go on,” said Mark Ghilarducci of California Office of Emergency Services.

Schiff added if Tuesday’s vote gets the green light, which he suspects that it will, it could still take a couple of years to get the system up and running.


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