Saturday, June 14, 2014

When an earthquake strikes

The following is from Congressman Rush Holt's newsletter:

When an earthquake struck the mid-Atlantic coast at 1:51 p.m. on August 23, 2011, tens of thousands of people reported their experiences in the speediest, most effective way they knew: via Twitter. This led to a strange phenomenon. Earthquakes travel through the earth very quickly: about three to five kilometers every second. But tweets travel through electronic networks nearly 100,000 times faster. As such, the first tweets about the earthquake, sent from towns near the quake’s epicenter in Virginia, reached New Jersey sooner than the earthquake itself.

If you happened to be monitoring Twitter at the time, you might well have had a half-minute’s warning of the impending earthquake.

How might governments take advantage of this kind of early warning? As experts testified at a hearing of my Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources this week, a network of seismometers along the west coast could detect major quakes and send advance warning to nearby cities, offering perhaps five minutes’ warning to major urban areas. Five minutes isn’t much time, but it would enable officials to stop trains, alert critical infrastructure, and warn people to take cover.

A major earthquake in a modern urban area could cost $250 billion and countless lives. Even so, lawmakers have failed to invest the $16 million per year that the U.S. Geological Survey estimates would be necessary to operate such an early-warning system.

Instead, the current Congress, over my objections, continues to slash much-needed investments in research and infrastructure.

A Lost Opportunity

In January I wrote to you about an opportunity for New Jersey to invest in our citizens’ health: the federal government had offered $7.6 million to help New Jerseyans gain access to affordable health care. At the time Gov. Christie was, for ideological reasons, refusing to accept the money.

In May this story reached an unfortunate and troubling end when, after years of inaction by the Christie Administration, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services formally rescinded the grant offer.

If Gov. Christie had accepted the money, about 95,000 more New Jerseyans would have health coverage today.

Rush Holt
Member of Congress

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