Although scientists can estimate earthquake risks based on the location and seismic history of fault lines, they've yet to find a way to predict when a temblor will strike. The system envisioned by Padilla's bill, like ones currently being used in Japan, Mexico and other quake-prone countries, would send out alerts as soon as sensors detect the first signs of a sizable quake, which happen seconds before the more damaging shock waves reach the surface. For a quake that started in the high desert, Angelenos could be warned 30 seconds or more in advance. Such a system would require a network of sensors along the faults, plus the technology to gauge a quake's severity, issue an alert and trigger the appropriate responses.
Padilla's bill would give the state Office of Emergency Services the ultimate responsibility for developing and managing the system, while leaving the door open for the state to collaborate with private companies that can prove their ability to upgrade the system. That's the right balance. And as important as it is to reduce the delays that limit the alerts' utility, such advancements in data crunching can still be achieved after the network of sensors is rolled out.