A couple times in the last two years we've mentioned talk of developing an earthquake early warning system -- something like what they have in Japan -- which would give all of us about a 30 to 60-second heads-up the next time a major earthquake strikes the West Coast. Yesterday, UC Berkeley and the University of Washington received $6 million in seed money from the Palo Alto-based Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to work on implementing such a system.
Experts estimate that it would take five years and somewhere between $80 and $150 million to fully implement the system up and down the coast. It has already been launched in prototype form with 400 sensors statewide. (So far, messages from the prototype system are only sent to a select handful of scientists.) In Japan, just before the large quake in March, many office workers got a duck-and-cover message like this one on their computer screen several seconds before the quake struck. The West Coast system would likely include a text-alert message sent to cell phones, as well as trigger mechanisms that would halt BART trains and other mass transit.