Like earthquakes, hurricanes can be very destructive, but at least citizens can get some warning of their approach and intensity. Earthquakes, however, are unpredictable. While detailed prediction is still an inexact science, early warning of earthquakes is possible and systems are being deployed across the globe. This ability to provide early warning is based on the fact that the energy from an earthquake is released through different kinds of motion that create different waves of energy moving through the earth. Fortunately for us, the most destructive waves are slower than some others, and the early sensing of these faster waves enables early warning of the arrival of the more destructive ones.

Much of the early work on Earthquake Early Warning Systems (EEWS) began in Japan and, as a result, that country has the most advanced network operating in the world. However, Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) is still a young science; the Japanese system was first used only 10 years ago in 2007. It is used to provide early warning on earthquakes and associated tsunamis, important for an island nation.

There are four key elements of any large scale Earthquake Early Warning system:

  • The sensor network
  • Processing and analysis system
  • The alerting and notification system
  • Public education and coordination with key public and private organizations

All of these components must work in unison to maximize the public trust in the network. Numerous false warnings or malfunction of equipment will make it difficult to gain support for the network.