Earthquake Early Warning: Its not perfect but it still saves lives and reduces injuries

There are three factors that drive successful, large-scale deployments of EEWS:

  1. There needs to be a commitment from government to support the deployments and fund them.
  2. There needs to be a robust system of notification, including direct notification to critical businesses, such as energy and transport firms, and broadcast media and phone networks for mass notification.
  3. Perhaps most important, there needs to be an understanding by the public that there is no perfection when dealing with complex phenomena like earthquakes, so there may be some false warnings or undetected events. The expectation of perfection and the legal risks of lack of perfection can limit system deployments.

No EEW is perfect and totally reliable. However, millions of people around the world are now protected by EEW systems, and many lives have been saved because of them. Japan’s EEW system has been functional for ten years, and even though there have been false alarms, it has proven to be a valuable tool in reducing loss of life and injuries. It is likely that in the future we will see such systems as ubiquitous in areas with seismic risk, and we will all be safer.



An Earthquake Warning System in your Hand

Traditional warning systems use dedicated sensors, networks and central computers to generate their estimates of seismic impact and alerts. But in the same way that smartphones have changed our lives since being introduced just ten years ago, researchers in the US, Mexico, Chile, Japan and elsewhere are looking to use a distributed network of personal smartphones connected over cellular networks to create a ‘crowdsourced’ EEWS. Today’s smartphones have high-power computer processors, GPS chips and accelerometers, plus radios to connect with cell networks — in essence, everything you need to do seismic detection. Researchers are testing to see if these devices, especially their built-in accelerometers, are accurate enough to support a warning function. And they are. In Chile, a team of local and US researchers is developing and deploying an early warning system using only smartphones and an inexpensive add-on for greater accuracy. Data collected by the sensor boxes is transmitted through an Android app developed by the researchers and analyzed to produce earthquake source models, which in turn can be used to create ground shaking forecasts and local tsunami warnings. A team at UC Berkeley has also developed an Android app with similar functionality which anyone can download and use as a seismometer. Someday these distributed personal networks may even be linked with the centralized systems to provide enhanced warning data and alerts.

Santa Monica Takes Major Step Towards “Resiliency”

Santa Monica’s Building Retrofit Legislation

On March 28, 2017, the Santa Monica City Council approved a comprehensive seismic retrofit ordinance that will encompass work to increase safety of earthquake-vulnerable buildings in the event of a large quake. Nearly 2,000 commercial and multi-family residential buildings are to be assessed for possible structural improvement. Participation in the program is mandatory, but the retrofits will be required earlier for unreinforced masonry buildings (2 years), than for harder to retrofit steel frame buildings (20 years).

City officials estimate that a typical woodframe apartment building will cost between $5,000 to $10,000 per unit to retrofit and $50 to $100 per square foot for concrete and steel buildings. Retrofits of single-family homes is voluntary.