At the White House Summit on Earthquake Resilience today, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation announced $3.6 million in grants to advance a West Coast Earthquake Early Warning system. The funding to California Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, University of Washington and the U.S. Geological Survey supports the research behind the technology to detect earthquakes, determine an earthquake’s likely magnitude and provide a warning before shaking begins, potentially saving lives and millions of dollars in damage.

Since 2011, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has invested nearly $6.5 million to research, develop and test a West Coast EEW System called ShakeAlert. The additional $3.6 million will take advantage of the particular strengths of each research group to advance three important areas of early warning:

  • UC Berkeley scientists will pursue a novel method to detect the shaking caused by earthquakes, harnessing the same sensors used in smart phones to count your daily steps;
  • Caltech scientists will develop a humanlike decision-making process to gather information from seismic networks to issue prompt and reliable alerts; and
  • University of Washington scientists will study implementation of a network of sensors on the ocean floor to provide early warning for earthquakes from the Cascadia subduction zone, the largest threat for a catastrophic earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.

“We are delighted to advance the science of earthquakes in a way that promises a great benefit to the public,” said Robert Kirshner, Ph.D., chief program officer for science at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “Supporting excellent scientists to learn more about nature while creating a warning system that can save lives and property is an objective we are proud to support.”

Once implemented, the system will be able to provide several seconds to minutes of warning before shaking begins. This warning will help individuals, public services and companies mitigate the impacts of strong shaking by taking automated actions, such as halting elevators at a floor and opening their doors, slowing down trains and activating emergency systems, in addition to numerous other life-saving responses.

“We are proud to support this kind of catalytic scientific research, including the development of a ShakeAlert prototype that demonstrates the potential to save lives,” said Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., president of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. “Completing the implementation of a robust, West Coast-wide Earthquake Early Warning system requires ongoing commitments from the public and private sectors.”

It is projected that $38.3 million is required to implement a fully operational system for California, Oregon and Washington. An additional $16.1 million will be required each year to operate and maintain the system.


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