SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — When Thursday’s 5.3-magnitude earthquake struck off the Ventura Coast, researchers at Cal Tech got a very early warning.

But why didn’t everyone in the state hear the same loud siren as they did in Mexico when last year’s massive earthquake struck?

The simple answer is state officials are developing California’s “Shake Alert System” with caution.

“Because we sit on the edge of the Pacific plate,” said state geologist John Parrish.

Parish head of the California Geological Survey, says the system is still too sensitive.

“We can’t afford false alarms that are going to shut down power systems that will close freeways and airports. We have to be very accurate,” he said.

And accuracy depends on sensor stations that monitor the earth’s movements and trigger the alerts.

“The sensor has to go in the ground,” said Ryan Arba at the State’s Office of Emergency Services.

Arba says the infrastructure is about half complete, with over 500 of the proposed 1,000 stations built.

And that’s still a few years in the making, he said.

“It’s not a question of if an earthquake will happen, it’s when. So knowing that, we’re continuing to push to make sure we can get ahead of that,” he said.

Money is also a major obstacle. Shake Alert, projected to cost $38 million to build, only has $18 million in funding.

For Dr. Parrish, once technology is there, the key will be operating it, automatically.

“Opening fire doors on fire stations, alerting hospitals to go automatically on emergency energy, telling planes to go around,” he said.

State agencies are also working on rolling out new public education campaigns to explain what to do when the sirens go off.

The drill now is drop, cover, and hold on.


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