California Launches Statewide Earthquake Early Warning System
Friday, October 18, 2019 | Comments

California launched what it called the nation’s first statewide earthquake early warning system.

The California Earthquake Early Warning System will marry a new smartphone application with traditional alert and warning delivery methods such as wireless emergency alerts (WEA). The system uses ground motion sensors from across the state to detect earthquakes before humans can feel them, and is automated to notify Californians so that they can “drop, cover and hold on” in advance of an earthquake.

The governor and legislature made investments to fund disaster planning and preparedness, including earthquake early warning, in the 2019 Budget Act. This year’s enacted budget included $16.3 million one-time general fund to finish the buildout of the earthquake system, including finishing seismic stations installation, adding GPS stations to the network, improving telemetry and launching an education campaign.

“Nothing can replace families having a plan for earthquakes and other emergencies,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom. “And we know the Big One might be around the corner. I encourage every Californian to download this app and ensure your family is earthquake ready.”

The app can provide seconds of warning before the ground starts to shake from a nearby quake — enough time to drop, cover and hold on to help prevent injury. The amount of advance notice received will depend on how far you are from the epicenter of the earthquake. For example, during the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989, which originated near Santa Cruz, those attending the World Series game at Candlestick Park would have received about 15 seconds of advance notice, and those farther north in Marin County, would have had up to 17 or 18 seconds of advance notice.

Initially, the new app will deliver alerts to people for earthquakes exceeding magnitude 4.5 in their area. Designed by University of California, Berkeley seismologists and engineers, the state earthquake early warning app is now available for download to IOS users through iTunes, and through GooglePlay stores for Android phones.

Warnings delivered through the system are based on a computerized program called ShakeAlert operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that analyzes data from seismic networks in California, calculates preliminary magnitudes and then estimates which areas will feel shaking.

Earthquake-prone countries such as Mexico and Japan have long had earthquake early warning systems, with alerts typically delivered through cellphones or public address systems. However, California will be the first state in the nation to offer earthquake early warning. The announcement culminates years of work by state experts and other partners following legislation, authored by Secretary of State Secretary Alex Padilla as a state senator, requiring the state to establish an earthquake early warning system.

More information and the application are here.

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