Earthquake Early Warning –¬†More than Technology

Earthquake Early Warning Systems (EEWS) can save lives and reduce damage to property.  However, even after the EEWS computers have determined the seismic risk, at least two additional capabilities are needed:

  1. The impact information needs to be communicated to the parties that need it
  2. The receiving parties accept the information as valid and know how to act on it

Many early stage EEWS, including those in California, are already connected to some organizations on a trial basis. Mass transit rail systems, airports and power utilities can get early warnings and all of them have response plans designed to use the time-critical information quickly and appropriately. But reaching the mass public, where there is the greatest need and potential benefit, is much harder. And educating the public about what to do when they get the notification is harder still.

Reaching the public in a timely way requires the use of multiple channels: radio, TV, the Web, and perhaps, most importantly, cell phones. Cell phone text and voice notification are the best ways to get the information to the public in a timely manner, but systems to do this are not ubiquitous nor are they fully reliable in reaching 100% of subscribers.

Educating the public about the EEWS and their location specific response is perhaps the toughest challenge in communicating warnings. Success here will require cooperation from schools, the media, and the social media community. And unless people do the right thing to save their lives and property, the technology will not have mattered.