Earthquake Early Warnings – Hope, Hype, and Hello

Earthquake early warningsEarthquake Early Warnings – The Hope
On January 28, a press release was issued by California State Senator Padilla who intends to introduce a bill addressing the need for an Early Warning System for California  The hoped for and much needed warning system has a long history (of hope). The press release quotes faculty at Caltech as well as the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation as supporting this endeavor for California.The folks at Caltech in Pasadena have a long and storied history of publicizing this need.  An hour spent on Google will illustrate at least a 15 year effort on the part of the Seismology and Geophysics departments at Caltech to tell Californians that early warnings are both necessary and technically feasible.  Caltech is certainly one of the premier scientific and technical universities on the planet.  After all, these are the guys who land spacecraft on other planets and genuinely qualify as “rocket scientists”.  They are smart and dedicated people.  When they talk, people should and do listen.We are told that “Japan, Taiwan, Mexico, Turkey, Romania, Italy and China either have or are working on earthquake early warning systems”.  Well, that clinches the argument, we need it too.  According to Sen. Padilla “the initial cost for this system will cost $80 million”.  This is far less than just the consulting costs already generated for the “bullet train” currently proposed for California.  They talk billions there, not piddly millions.  The legislators in Sacramento should be able to find this kind of money by passing a cup around during a legislative session or searching under their seat cushions.  Hope is alive and well.

Earthquake Early Warnings – The Hype
See All Above.  The folks at Caltech must have a “Press Release” schedule which requires them to issue pretty much the same facts every 90 days. The same Google search will reveal the exact same set of “facts” and technical data summarized for the talking heads and news rooms across the state and around the nation. Internet generated “news feeds” for every media faithfully reproduces the same “fit for public consumption” facts and always fails to notice that nothing of substance ever really changes.  The hype causes lots of conversation and the disaster junkies and fan boys (like this author) opine for another 90 days.

The hype can best be illustrated by asking a few simple questions. If the 20 year history of EQ early warnings is so effective in Japan, why is it not universally implemented?  Why does it pretty much only serve to slow down the Japanese bullet trains? Could the answer be connected to bullet trains somehow since the press release also speaks about the Japanese bullet train?  Can we have an earthquake early warning system without a bullet train?  Can we vote on this?

Earthquake Early Warnings – Hello California to Reality
For California (and most governmental bodies) large public infrastructure projects do not get built because they reduce risks to humans and property.  The simple reason is that political “benefits” do not come from preventing death and damages to citizens, they come from standing in front of the cameras AFTER the event and writing government checks to those lucky enough to survive.  Large infrastructure projects only get done if they create large numbers of potential donors who benefit from construction, land development, land sales, and do not forget consulting services to all of the above.  Again, think bullet trains.   Yes, we do need an early warning system. The folks at Caltech are indeed correct regarding a publicly funded and operated earthquake early warning system.

It is the system of the future and always will be.

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Author Note:  The Author is a wild eyed optimist and does believe an effective earthquake detection and early warning system is both possible and will be built.

Posted comments would be most welcome, but past experience has shown that 90% of comments typically come from those wishing to increase the size of my fatherhood, decrease the size of my waist, provide some form of pharmacological benefit, or automated “bots” seeking free web links.  So, comments are not allowed, but simple emails are usually read and often sent replies. We are all in this together. Reality is not an optional choice.

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