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U.S. needs earthquake early warning technology

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Last month Mexico City suffered a devastating 7.1 magnitude earthquake that left more than 200 dead. Fortunately, the seismic warning system that has been in place since 1991 successfully gave the population crucial seconds to flee vulnerable buildings and prepare for the worst. The United States, however, has no such system in place; if an earthquake were to hit California, people would have no way of knowing with some advanced warning and that would decrease their chances of getting to safety. The technology already exists, so there is no excuse as to why the U.S. government has not implemented it while our neighbors south of us have.

The Mexican government commissioned the early warning system after a 1985 earthquake in the capital left more than 5,000 people dead. The early warning system originally consisted of 12 seismic sensors along the coast, and has since expanded to more than 100 sensors along the Mexican Pacific coast.

The system allows the government to use radio channels to send out alerts and sirens after sensors detect an earthquake, and it gives residents a warning about a minute or two ahead to try and get outside.

Even though this potentially lifesaving technology has existed since 1991, the United States does not have an early warning system. The U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS has spent years building a seismic early warning system on the West Coast and it was due to launch in 2018, but President Donald Trump’s newest budget proposal would kill the program by canceling its $16 million in funding before it launches, the Los Angeles Times reported in July 2017.

The USGS estimates that California has a 99.7 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake, while the Pacific Northwest has a 10 percent chance of a catastrophic 8 to 9 magnitude earthquake, within 30 years.

ShakeAlert, the beta version of the U.S. early earthquake warning system, would cost $16 million per year to build sensors and launch in California and Pacific Northwest, Wired.com reported in September. However the Trump administration will only fund $10 million per year.

If Mexico can afford to have the system, the richest country in the world can figure out how to pay for it. Maybe if the President’s ego is attacked, the early earthquake warning system will get the funding that needs. Mr. President, if we truly want to “Make America Great Again” we should at least have the technology that Mexico has had since 1991.

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