By Representative Adam Schiff
Almost 20 years ago, many across Southern California were jolted awake in the middle of the night by the Northridge earthquake. The earthquake and its aftershocks took the lives of almost 60 people, injured nearly another 9,000 residents and cost the region and homeowners over $20 billion.
Since that terrible day, there has been a concerted effort at the local, state and federal level to stress the importance of earthquake preparedness and detection technology. And with over 75 million Americans vulnerable to earthquakes, Congress must ensure support for vital earthquake monitoring and response programs.
Earlier this year, a 4.5 magnitude earthquake centered in East Orange County triggered Cal Tech’s earthquake warning system nearly 10 seconds before shaking was felt in Pasadena—the first time an earthquake in the U.S. was ever detected before the ground had begun to shake.
Despite these advancements, some in Congress have targeted the National Earthquake Hazards Reduction Program in a series of budget-cutting moves—which includes the early warning system still being developed by scientists in Southern California. Such a system would be enormously helpful in providing residents and first responders with advance notice that could help avert major infrastructure damage by shutting down mechanical systems like mass transit and elevators.
Instead of passing a budget this year, Congress had to settle for another “Continuing Resolution,” which keeps programs funded at the same level—no increases or decreases—as the previous fiscal year. For prototype’s like the U.S. Geological Survey’s “Shake Alert,” which was partially designed by the USGS in Pasadena, budget constraints have severely limited its implementation. Despite these roadblocks, I remain hopeful that Congress will be able to come together to pass a budget in the near future.
That is I have joined a bipartisan group of legislators in urging the Office of Management and Budget to maintain funding for the Earthquake Hazard Program and the Global Seismic Network.
While the need to address the national debt is real, accomplishing that task must be done in such a way that it does not jeopardize programs that protect lives and properly.
Every few months, we are reminded about Los Angeles’ vulnerability with tremors and small earthquakes rattling our homes and businesses. It is critical that the United States maintains its vigilance and expertise in earthquake preparedness, and I am hopeful that when the House and Senate meet to work out the appropriations bills, we will be able to secure funding for this vital program.
When you consider the lives that would be spared if we had some warning before the next “big one,” it is a small and very prudent investment.
Representative Adam Schiff serves in the U.S. House of Representatives.