California is home to the world's most powerful and innovative tech companies, and yet when it comes to having the foggiest notion that an earthquake is coming, we're pretty screwed. Our current technology basically equates to some sticks held together with duct tape.

According to the New York Times, California lags woefully behind other seismic hotspots like Mexico and Japan in establishing a warning system that could give hospitals, fire stations and regular citizens precious seconds to prepare before the next big one hits. Although an ambitious earthquake alert system has been in development, it's a rough system that sends alerts to just 100 geologists and some emergency workers. Plus, it's stalled for funding. State lawmakers have proposed legislation to raise the necessary $80 million, but they "acknowledged they did not know where the money might come from." Classic.

The system in development would add hundreds of sensors across the state and create an alert system that could reach people just in time to make last-minute preparations.

According to the New York Times:

The warning would go out to home computers and personal cellphones, giving surgeons a moment to withdraw scalpels, workers at Disneyland time to shut down Space Mountain, home cooks an opportunity to turn off the gas and everyone a moment to ... dive under a desk.

Researchers worry that it will take a devastating emergency to spur the state into action, given that we've experienced relative seismic peace for almost 20 years. Mexico developed its alert system after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, and Japan's alert system was put into place after the Kobe earthquake in 1995. The impact of the alert system is pretty impressive:

As demonstrated in Japan, even a 30-second notice was enough to activate computerized programs to slow commuter trains so they did not go off their tracks, stop elevators so passengers were not stranded between floors, flash highway warning signs instructing motorists to slow down and avoid overpasses, and open doors at fire stations so they would not be stuck shut should power be lost.


[NY Times]