California earthquake early warning system vs. Japan, Mexico

When it comes to building a state-of-the-art earthquake early warning system, California is behind.

California and the U.S. have long neglected the development of such a system. The alarm system we do have still isn’t integrated into as much infrastructure as it might be. And the concept is still not universally understood by the public.

By contrast, earthquake early warning systems in Japan and Mexico are part of the fabric of daily life — with the public understanding their lifesaving potential while accepting their inherent limits.

In Japan, earthquake early warnings have become well-integrated across society, with warnings automatically piped to cellphones, television and radio. In Mexico City, a ubiquitous network of sirens blares moments after a large temblor is detected to give residents time to seek safety before shaking arrives.

Yet California and the rest of the West Coast are still figuring out what exactly to make of the U.S. Geological Survey’s ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system. It began issuing public alerts in L.A. only about 2½ years ago; expanded to the rest of California a year later; and then this year expanded to Oregon and Washington state.