Oregon state lawmakers abandoned a multimillion-dollar project to develop early warning systems for earthquakes and wildfires, and scientists warn that the funding shake-up could endanger public safety and put Oregon further behind other West Coast states in preparing for natural disasters.
Researchers were shocked when nearly $12 million to expand ShakeAlert and AlertWildfire – early warning systems to help detect significant earthquakes and wildfires – unexpectedly went up in smoke last month, just days before the end of the legislative session. Money for the projects was included as part of a larger funding package, but was stripped in a last-minute amendment.
Disaster preparedness has continually been a focal point as Western states are poised to enter the hottest and driest months of wildfire season. And two massive earthquakes in remote areas of Southern California this month reminded the public it’s only a matter of time before the next destructive quake hits.
“We don’t know when the next big earthquake or wildfire will strike, but we know it will happen at some point,” said Douglas Toomey, a seismologist and earth sciences professor at the University of Oregon who helps run both early warning detection systems. And Oregon is “woefully” unprepared, he said.
Gov. Kate Brown, who included the $12 million in funding for the projects in her proposed budget last year, has told reporters the decision not to expand the early detection systems was one of the “biggest disappointments” of this year’s legislative session.