CA to roll out earthquake early warning system, ShakeAlert

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California will roll out a limited public earthquake early warning system next year throughout the West Coast, including Oregon and Washington, according to campus researchers at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

The system, called ShakeAlert, was developed through a joint collaboration between the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, the University of Washington, the United States Geographical Survey and the University of Oregon, according to Angela Chung, assistant project scientist at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

The goal of the system, Chung said in an email, is to notify users of impending shaking from an earthquake. She added that these systems can save lives and reduce injuries.

The lab’s sensors “measure displacement, velocity, or acceleration. When a number of stations sense strong movements (when those stations “trigger”), our system can locate the earthquake, estimate its magnitude, and provide warning times (time until the shaking begins) and estimated shaking at a location,” Chung said in an email.

Robert Martin-Short, a graduate student instructor at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, said in an email that the earthquake early warning system has a network of high quality seismometers along the U.S. West Coast, a system to find and categorize earthquakes, and an alert system to warn people that an earthquake will occur.

According to Martin-Short, the warning system “comes in the form of an app that receives warnings from Elarms  (an early warning algorithm) and can be used by members of the public, on their phones, for example, emergency planners, transportation operators etc.”

The system, however, is not yet available to the public, and a trial version of the system is currently being used by Bay Area Rapid Transit, according to Martin-Short.

BART spokesperson Chris Filippi said in an email that BART was the first transit agency to use the ShakeAlert system.

“Safety is BART’s number one priority,” BART spokesperson Jim Allison said. “The earthquake early warning system could enable BART to stop or slow trains before earthquake shaking starts, preventing potential injuries.”

The ShakeAlert system was implemented at BART in August 2012, and was proven successful for BART two years ago, according to Filippi.

When a 4.0 magnitude earthquake hit Oakland in August 2015, it alerted the system, and trains instantly slowed down, according to Allison.

According to Martin-Short, other countries such as Japan, Mexico and Taiwan are already using earthquake early warning systems. He emphasized the need for an alert system in California and the Pacific Northwest because of the risk of a major earthquake.

“These states already have a relatively dense network of seismic sensors, but more are planned to be added in order to reduce warning times,” Martin-Short said in an email.

Contact Jamari Snipes at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JamariSnipes.

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