Government Should Fund Pacific Earthquake Early Warning System

By on April 6th, 2011 14:56 GMT

According to experts in geology, the West Coast of the United States is in desperate need of an early warning system against earthquakes. The system could also be used to predict if and when a tsunami will strike following such events.

The conclusions belong to scientists who attended a summit held at the University of California in Berkeley (UCB). The closed-door session saw the participation of leading seismologists and other experts in related fields.

They say that the states of Washington, Oregon and California are most in need for such a system. However, the meeting only started on Monday, and there are still a few days of talks ahead.

The first day of the meeting was dedicated to seismologists and representatives from utilities and industry companies. One of the main discussion points was whether early warning technologies are now sufficiently advanced to justify their costs.

In-depth analysis of available early detection methods led to a consensus among scientists that these systems can indeed be used successfully in the field. Doing so could help save many lives in the critical moments after a large earthquake strikes.

“A robust early warning system could be operating within five years in California, at a potential cost of $80 million over five years,” says UCB expert and organizer Richard Allen.

He holds an appointment as the associate director of the Seismological Laboratory at the university, and is also an associate professor of Earth and planetary sciences. He goes on to add that installing a simpler system could be even cheaper and faster.

“Japan’s earthquake early warning system undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, and will reduce the long-term impact of the earthquake on the economy,” Allen says. He has been working towards creating an early warning system against earthquakes on the US West Coast for more than a decade.

“A similar system in California could provide as much as a minute warning – and in Washington, as much as two-to-three minutes’ warning – so that some actions, many of them automated, can be taken before the destructive waves (of shaking) arrive,” he goes on to say.

The system would also benefit the state of California, which sits atop the San Andreas fault line.

“When the Cascadia subduction zone ruptures again, this system could provide four minutes of warning, in an ideal case, that strong shaking is headed to the population centers of western Washington and Oregon,” explains expert Bill Steele.

“It also could help speed tsunami warnings to coastal communities,” add the scientist, who is the coordinator of the seismology laboratory at the University of Washington.