Such a sensor system sent text message warnings to about 50 million people in the devastating 2011 Japan earthquake, and many people in Tokyo, 200 miles from the epicenter, knew the quake was coming 30 seconds before the shaking started, they said.
A group of California's top geophysicists and seismologists have proposed an $80 million plan to create a similar earthquake early warning system in California, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
State Sen. Alex Padilla is introducing legislation to expand and upgrade the existing California Integrated Seismic Network of ground sensors that produces online maps after quakes showing their epicenter.
Officials say they envision people installing a quake warning application on their computers and mobile devices that would present an on-screen alert in the case of a large earthquake. Alerts could activate automatic systems to tell elevators to stop, firehouse doors to open and notification to be flashed on freeways, they said.
An early warning system could be particularly important in Southern California, officials said, where the San Andreas fault is located far enough from metropolitan Los Angeles to give residents as much as a 1-minute warning of a huge quake.
"Think of the lives we could save," Padilla said. "The injuries we can reduce. And the billions upon billions of damage. If we can just reduce that by a small percentage, or a fraction, the system would more than pay for itself."