USGS Deploying Earthquake Early Warning System


A $38 million earthquake early warning system, which is being built under the guidance of the US Geological Survey (USGS) as well as several west coast universities, is almost ready for prime time.  Expected to initially be launched in California in 2018, USGS is currently in the process of installing earthquake sensing systems in the ground, and making sure all associated software programs and personnel are secured, for not only California but also Oregon and Washington and ultimately the entire west coast.

How the USGS System Will Work

The system utilizes multiple warning channels to reach the maximum number of at-risk people.  Whenever a sensor detects trouble, it will trigger multiple warnings.

Residents will receive text and email alerts.  School classrooms will be linked to give students the earliest possible warning.  Trains will automatically slow down or stop as necessary to avoid the event.  Firehouse station doors will automatically open.  One local water utility in Oregon – Eugene Water & Electricity Board – plans to leverage the early warning system to lower canal water levels if needed, and to use alerts to stop turbines at a river power plant.

Aside from the installation of the sensors, software and operators, extensive training will need to take place.  Residents will need to know what to do when an alert is received, and west coast utility companies will need to update their emergency plans and incorporate the technology into emergency exercises and drills.

All in all, I think an earthquake early warning system is a fantastic idea that will clearly save lives and ultimately reduce the impact of earthquakes.  I applaud USGS and all others involved.

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