Quake Alert

In California, a brief heads-up

Six seconds before the ground started shaking in the Bay Area on Aug. 24, an alarm went off at the University of California, Berkeley. Waves from the 6.0-magnitude tremor–the epicenter of which struck Napa Valley, causing an estimated $1 billion in damage–triggered some well-placed U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sensors designed to provide a warning to the public just before an earthquake.

That brief heads-up, says Doug Given, USGS’s earthquake early-warning system coordinator, could be enough time for elevators to let passengers off at the closest floors or rapid-transit trains to slow down so they don’t derail. It could also allow hospitals to alert surgeons performing delicate operations that their work is about to be interrupted. “If you’re in an MRI machine, you might want them to pull you out before it starts shaking hard,” Given says.

But that’s only if the system is in widespread use. Unlike the ones in Japan and Mexico, which installed national warning systems after large earthquakes killed thousands of people, the USGS program lacks the funds to issue reliable warnings to the general public. Given says California would need 470 new sensors on top of its existing 400 sensors, at a cost of $80 million over five years, plus $15 million a year to maintain operations.

“We will be doing this eventually,” says USGS seismologist Lucile Jones. “The only question is whether the decision to do it is made before or after a big earthquake kills a bunch of people.”


The low-cost meat product was once in 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S., though it all but disappeared after a wave of bad publicity in 2012. Beef Products Inc., which invented what it calls “lean finely textured beef,” is now ramping back up, in part thanks to sky-high meat prices and a cattle shortage exacerbated by drought. On Aug. 20, the company reopened one of the three plants it shuttered in 2012, and it is now producing more than 1 million lb. per week of what critics labeled “pink slime”–down from nearly 5.5 million lb. in 2012.

‘We’re going to fix what is wrong.’

President Obama, promising veterans on Aug. 26 that he will improve their access to medical care. That day, a report from the Veterans Affairs Department found no proof that vets had died from delays in care at a Phoenix hospital

$1 million

Amount donated to a Washington State gun-control effort by billionaires Bill and Melinda Gates. Initiative 594 would require criminal background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows and online


Nearly every Republican who is serious about a 2016 presidential run has criticized the state education standards known as Common Core. On Aug. 27, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal vaulted to the head of the pack, accusing the Obama Administration in a lawsuit of illegally using federal funds to compel states to adopt the guidelines. Common Core was enacted in 2011 with bipartisan support (including Jindal’s) but is now reviled by the right–becoming a litmus test for GOP presidential hopefuls.


The new season kicked off on Aug. 27. Why the amateur model is under fire:

1. Going Semipro

On Aug. 7, the NCAA voted to allow its five richest conferences to play by their own rules. Big-time schools will start giving athletes stipends to cover expenses and will allow players to talk to agents.

2. Looming Litigation

The Aug. 8 verdict in the Ed O’Bannon antitrust case held that schools can offer athletes payments that they will receive after finishing their college career. The NCAA has appealed. Meanwhile, a ruling allowing Northwestern football players to unionize is being appealed to the National Labor Relations Board.

3. A New Playoff Regime

Bye-bye, BCS. Four teams chosen by a committee will now play for the title. The new format will pump even more money into the college game.

This appears in the September 08, 2014 issue of TIME.
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