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TRENDWATCH: Earthquake Early Warning Systems

4 Minute Read

California researchers are actively pursuing development and adoption of early warning technologies for earthquakes. Once thought impossible, emerging new monitoring technologies promise to give citizens and employers warnings of impending quakes 60 to 90 seconds before the ground starts shaking. Based on results from similar systems in Japan, it is believed even a short warning duration such as this would be sufficient to save lives.

The California state legislature is stepping into the game according to an article in Governing. A bill is under consideration in the state Senate aimed at creating and funding such an early warning system. Sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla, S.B. 135 requires the California Office of Emergency Services to work in collaboration with the California Geological Survey, the University of California—Berkley, the USGS, and other partners to develop an early-warning earthquake system for an estimated $80 million.

California’s need for such a system is obvious given the region’s seismic activity. Less obvious, but no less critical however, is the need for such systems along the East Coast. According to the article, the East Coast is made up of harder, less active, and colder ground, which enables energy waves released by the earthquake to travel further. For example, the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Virginia in August of 2011 (a fairly average quake in intensity), was felt by more than 37 million people ranging from Boston to South Carolina.

“In some ways, there’s almost more of a need [for an early warning system] on the East Coast because the buildings are so much worse,” said seismologist Lucy Jones, senior science adviser for the Natural Hazards Mission of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). “The earthquakes are less likely, but they do happen, and when they do, they cause more damage as those of the same size.”

Clearly, this is an important initiative that is broader than any single geographic region of the country. And, it speaks to the ongoing need for reliable, secure, and robust technologies like those offered by Send Word Now to alert and warn people in a crisis.