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EDITORIAL: Trump dumping earthquake early warning system is ridiculous

Mercury News — Mercury News

June 18--Politics can get personal. You have to wonder if President Donald Trump was thinking of the majority of people who didn't vote for him in the West Coast states of California, Oregon and Washington when he made a recent budget decision to abandon an earthquake warning system.

Whatever the reason, the proposed federal budget from the Trump administration eliminated ongoing funding for ShakeAlert, a cost-efficient early-warning system that would provide up to a minute of crucial time for those of us who live in earthquake-prone regions. That minute absolutely can save lives.

According to the U.S. Geological Service, "the purpose of the ShakeAlert system is to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm's way."

Seismologist Lucy Jones at Caltech in Pasadena said ShakeAlert could make a huge difference in lives saved during an earthquake. For Instance, using the early warning system, train operators would have time to stop, preventing them from derailing. Utility companies could control power grids to prevent blackouts. Building managers could direct elevators to the nearest floor to evacuate people to safety. Surgeries could be stopped before the shaking starts.

And that's just a start.

So far, the federal budget has invested $23 million of a total $38.3 million to set up ShakeAlert. The system created by scientists at Caltech, UC Berkeley and the universities of Oregon and Washington had been on track to start operating by the end of 2018 at an annual cost of $16.1 million a year.

In a budget that runs north of $4 trillion, that is virtual budget dust. But it is vital money that can save many lives.

Jones says the cuts would kill the program: "Eliminating the $10 million (a) year that the government has been spending would stop the program and waste the $23 million that has already been invested."

The White House has given no explanation for eliminating the funding. Appearing with Jones at Caltech, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, said that "we cannot stop now, just as monitoring stations are being built out and the system is expanding its reach."

Unfortunately, we can do that if Congress agrees with Trump. But it should restore ShakeAlert funding. There are programs that make sense to cut, but this one fits the classic definition of being pennywise and pound foolish. The "pounds' will come out of federal emergency funds when the next big quake hits.

And we all know it's overdue.

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