More than 30 members of the U.S. House of Representatives are urging their colleagues to allocate $16.1 million in the next federal budget for an earthquake early warning system, which could give people as much as a minute's warning before severe shaking arrives.
So far, $6.5 million in federal money has been allocated for the project, including $5 million in new funding President Obama signed into law in December. But the total price tag for establishing a quake early warning system for California, Oregon and Washington state is estimated at $38.3 million to build, with $16.1 million needed annually to operate it.
Even if the latest request is fully funded, it won't be all that's needed to build the system. Still, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), a champion of its development, said more federal funding would give the system a big boost at a critical time.
"I think that the federal government can often be an innovator and help the states get started on worthwhile projects. This is a technology that other countries are utilizing," Schiff said in an interview.
"In a way, we're in a race for time. We know we're going to have another major earthquake -- it's just a question of when," Schiff said. "And I think a lot of us will really be kicking ourselves if we take too long to build out this system and we don't give people the advanced warning that could have saved their lives or saved their property."
He urged the state legislatures of California, Oregon and Washington to pitch in, as well as private industry that will benefit from the creation of the system.
States ought to be prepared to contribute, Schiff said. "There's no way we're going to get that kind of money every year from the federal government .… This needs to be a shared responsibility."
Addressing the state legislatures, Schiff said, "if they don't put skin in the game, it's not going to continue."
Referring to California passing a law in 2013 "that expressed moral support for the idea," Schiff said: "At some point, they're going to have to show that they're serious about helping to put up some of the financial resources to make it possible."
The members of Congress who signed the letter were all Democrats, and included members from Oregon, Washington state, Texas and Pennsylvania.
While Schiff and his colleagues are proposing $16.1 million in funding for the next fiscal year, Obama's budget has proposed allocating $5 million.