By Joseph George
Published Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Imagine getting an alert on your smartphone seconds before an earthquake strikes. If ongoing research and experiments by various governmental and non-governmental agencies succeed, we could soon receive such a notification, seconds or even minutes before the tremors, thereby saving precious lives.
Starting with an initiative by the Community Seismic Network of the California Institute of Technology to the Qatar Computing Research Institute, which has announced various projects related to emergency response in times of an earthquake or other similar natural disasters, efforts are on to leverage the potential of the smartphone and other smart devices to one day being able to mitigate and even prevent the damages in case of an intense earthquake.
Earlier this month California’s Office of Emergency Services announced that it is joining hands with the US Geological Survey to launch a state-wide emergency warning system that could well be able to forewarn an earthquake through a smartphone app, minutes or at least seconds before the tremors.
Recently scientists in Pasadena in California, where a majority of the research on the issue is ongoing, were able to get a 35-second lead warning before a quake measuring 4.7. It is estimated that a wider network of seismographs could extend this to almost a minute.
The video below showcases how the early warning works using a Shake Alert prototype developed by various participating universities in the United States in association with the United States Geological Survey (USGS).
The idea according to the programme managers is to rapidly detect the initiation of an earthquake, estimate the level of ground shaking to be expected, and issue a warning before significant ground shaking starts.
“This can be done by detecting the first energy to radiate from an earthquake, the P-wave energy, which rarely causes damage. Using P-wave information, we first estimate the location and the magnitude of the earthquake. Then, the anticipated ground shaking across the region to be affected is estimated and a warning is provided to local populations. The method can provide warning before the S-wave – which brings the strong shaking that usually causes most of the damage – arrives,” the description reads.