Kilmer on Earthquake Early Warning System: ‘If the federal government commitment goes away, this gets shut down’

Washington, D.C. – This week during House Appropriations Committee hearings, Representative Derek Kilmer (D-WA) warned Trump Administration officials not to cut investments in research and warning systems critical to alerting residents of West Coast states of natural disasters off the coast. Today, Kilmer pressed the Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on the value of an Earthquake Early Warning System for states like Washington in the wake of the President’s budget proposal that eliminates funding for it. 

The system, being developed at the University of Washington in partnership with other West Coast universities, could save lives and mitigate destruction in the event of a mega quake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone. In April for the first time, scientists were able to connect sensors in Washington, Oregon, and California to create a unified network.

Secretary Zinke was appearing before the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing on the Interior budget.

To watch the full exchange between Kilmer and Secretary Zinke go to 1:55:18 of a recording of the hearing here.

“The good news is that there are really smart people that are working on an Earthquake Early Warning System to give people time to take cover, to shutdown rail system and power plants,” said Kilmer at today’s hearing. “To alert hospitals so if someone is in the middle of a surgery they can put down the scalpel and secure their patient and to open firehouse doors so first responders can actually get deployed.

We’ve been making progress on this.”

He continued: “Experts on this say that if the federal government commitment goes away, this gets shut down.

I’m hoping you can help me understand the rationale for suspending this program. Not to mention other hazard monitoring programs like the advanced lahar warning system on Mount Rainier, when there are literally millions of lives at stake.”    

The Earthquake Early Warning System has been in the works since 2005 and is being developed by the University of Washington, the California Institute of Technology, University of California-Berkeley, and the University of Oregon with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). It is designed to detect the first tremors of a major earthquake and provide users with anywhere from seconds to minutes of warning before a quake hits, which would provide crucial, life-saving time for safety precautions.

As a member of the Appropriations Committee, Kilmer has consistently and successfully fought to include investments in the system in government funding bills.

Yesterday, Kilmer asked the Director of the National Science Foundation, France Córdova, why the President was proposing cuts to research related to the Cascadia Subduction Zone and its potential to trigger an earthquake that generates a massive tsunami. Director Córdova was appearing before the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies subcommittee hearing regarding the National Science Foundation budget.

To watch the full exchange between Kilmer and Director Córdova go to 37:16 of a recording of the hearing here.

Kilmer: Let me switch gears and ask about geoscience. Some folks may have read the article about the ‘really big one’ that could hit on the Cascadia Subduction Zone and the impacts that would have on the West Coast of the United States. We know a lot about the Cascadia Subduction Zone but there is a bunch that we don’t know. That’s why the NSF funding grants like the M9 grant awarded to the University of Washington four years ago is so vital. We’ve heard arguments made that geoscience and earth science research could be funded by other agencies like NOAA. Unfortunately the office within NOAA that is responsible for the bulk of the extramural research is also slated for a cut of more than 30 percent. NASA Earth Science is slated for a cut as well. So my question is this – if NSF is cutting back on geosciences, and NOAA and NASA are cutting back on research in related fields, who is going to do this?

Cordova: We are one of the major agencies that’s involved in the geosciences and our work that we do, often in conjunction with other agencies is extremely important. I think your question is probably a rhetorical question.

Kilmer: Actually it isn’t. I am actually curious as to who is going to do the work. If the funding is being cut by everyone who is doing this work? Where is it going to happen?

Cordova: There will be less wherewithal in order to do that important work. We will continue to do the best we can with the budget we have and subject it to the best review processes. We think that work is very important.

Kilmer: I do too.