Cal Tech Selects Long Beach for Earthquake Early Warning System Testing

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Photo Courtesy of California Integrated Seismic Network

The California Institute of Technology and the United States Geological Survey have selected Long Beach as a beta site to test the California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) Earthquake Early Warning System (EEWS).

The testing, which comes at no cost to the city, will include certain City of Long Beach departments that will provide feedback on the system so the developers can fine tune algorithms and software to ensure the system performs properly. Once fully operational, the system could provide valuable seconds for people to protect themselves as well as help safeguard critical infrastructure.

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“We are always looking for ways to better prepare for a disaster, and even a few seconds of warning before the force of an earthquake reaches us can save lives and protect property,” Mayor Bob Foster said in a press release.

The benefits of an early warning system were illustrated in a video posted on the internet showing a news broadcast in Mexico where shaking didn’t start until more than a minute after the anchor relayed the warning alert. The 21-year-old system, the oldest on the planet, allowed for residents to brace for the 7.2 earthquake that shook the country earlier this month.

The CISN is a network of cities that share earthquake data but currently do not forewarn residents of temblors. Seismically active California lacks an EEWS because both state and federal lawmakers haven’t sorted out who would pay the $16 million annual tab for the system that includes Washington and Oregon. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed bill passed by state legislature that forbids state general fund money from being used to finance a system.

"That represents about doubling of the cost of earthquake monitoring as it exists today, without early warning," said USGS Earthquake Early Warning Coordinator Doug Given. "So it's not a particulary large number in terms of what's already being spent for earthquake monitoring and research. This is just an extension of that capability that adds another mitigation tool to our inventory to help reduce losses in California."

Earthquakes produce two types of seismic energy waves, the initial P-wave energy that rarely causes damage, and the more destructive S-waves that succeed the P-waves. The EEWS would utilize information gathered from the detection of the P-waves, estimating the location and magnitude of the earthquake and provide valuable seconds for elevator doors to open, surgeons to pause delicate procedures, clearing of bridge traffic and other things that could be adveresly affected by an earthquake.

“The earthquake early warning system provides the City with another tool, in addition to CERT classes to prepare residents and all-hazards training to prepare staff, in the event of a disaster or major emergency,” said Deputy City Manager Reginald Harrison.  “Once fully developed, this technology could literally save lives.”

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