POTUS budget would end development of earthquake early alert system

Medford, Ore. — Scientists say it’s just a matter of time before “the big one” hits the Pacific Northwest. An earthquake alert system being developed now could save thousands of lives. But NBC5 News has learned that program may be cut, if the president’s budget goes through.

“I was on duty as a San Francisco paramedic captain for the Loma Prieta earthquake,” Medford Emergency Management Coordinator, Larry Masterman says, “I would have loved to have 30 seconds notice.”

With the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning system, that 30 seconds notice is possible.

“We could have elevator doors open at the next floor, stop and let people out, we could have warning lights that keep people from driving under the viaduct or maybe even getting on the viaduct,” Masterman says, “all of these are just theoretical at this point, these are things we could do with this system.”

The program is still in it’s development phase, but the idea is if all the seismographs- or sensors- on the West Coast were interconnected, a system could be in place to immediately notify the affected area when an earthquake hits.

“As a seismograph near the earthquake source or epicenter registers the earthquake, it can determine its location, depth, size and the nature of the earthquake,” geologist, and Professor Emeritus at SOU, Eric Dittmer says.

Right now the region only has one seismograph located at SOU, but by being a part of the pilot program they’re in the process of adding more- including at Roxy Ann peak and the fire station in Ruch.

“The devices, the installation, the maintenance, all of those things are funded through the USGS and some grants,” Masterman says.

But that funding is on the chopping block. President Donald Trump’s budget calls for the elimination of $8.2 to 10-million dollars in funding for the USGS. Those cuts would end the early warning system, and the efforts to prepare for when the big one hits.

“We’re talking about an earthquake larger than Loma Prieta, larger than Northridge, larger than any of the earthquakes in recent history on the West Coast,” Masterman says, “so if you had 20 or 30 seconds to prepare would that make a difference? If the answer is yes, then this is definitely worth doing.”

In a statement to NBC news, the Department of the Interior defended the cuts saying the administration is committed to increasing efficiency. It said the agency will be able to monitor earthquakes using the existing Advanced National Seismic System.

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