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Earth Science Technology

For California, an Earthquake Early Warning System Is Up and Running 152

autospa writes "In California's Coachella Valley around Palm Springs, a state-of-the-art, first-in-the-world earthquake early warning system in now installed and operational. Twelve locations are now in place with 120 sites planned, all meant to detect an earthquake and give people a chance to get under a table, or in the case of a fire station, get the engines outside of the building."
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For California, an Earthquake Early Warning System Is Up and Running

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  • by natehoy ( 1608657 ) on Thursday February 24, 2011 @03:36PM (#35303744) Journal

    As far as I can see, there's not much chance of false alarms unless someone drops something heavy right next to one of the seismometers or something. This is detecting actual earthquakes. The chances of actual false alarms are pretty low. The earth is shaking somewhere. In fact, this is data seismologists already gather as a routine.

    The difference here is that it's propagating out an automated warning that can be responded to automatically to nearby locations. The key is "automatically". As in, people don't need to react. You'll only get a minute or two of warning at best - you want this to be automated.

    Signal hits the fire station, and the fire station opens the doors immediately (so the quake can't jam them shut if power is lost or the doors get shaken out of track, for example). Alarm tells the firefighters to go get in the truck and pull it into the parking lot in case the building collapses. That's a bunch of fire engines and ambulances you've kept in service when they're likely to be needed very, very soon.

    Signal hits a hospital, and they spin up their generator (so it's already running if the Big One hits and they lose power) and sound a tone in operating rooms telling doctors the floors might shake so starting a delicate cut around the brainstem is a bad idea for a few minutes.

    Signal hits a large commercial building, and the elevators all go to the nearest floor, open their doors, engage all friction locking mechanisms, and tell everyone to get out of the elevator right now.

    Bridges might drop gates to keep people who are not on them yet off them. Water and gas mains might close some containment valves. Traffic lights might all turn red so cars stop. Bell goes off at the school telling the kids to get near a reinforced wall.

    Nothing that people need to take conscious effort to react to, just automated stuff that makes the incoming quake a little easier to deal with. Also nothing that would cause all life to come to a complete stop. There'll still be enough gas and water pressure in the systems that most people wouldn't even notice the outage. Traffic would be stopped for a few minutes. The elevator alarm will shut off and people will get back in. And so on...

    This is pretty useless if you're at the epicenter, but gives you increasing amounts of warning as you get further away. It also lets emergency personnel outside the quake zone know that they'd better start getting ready to head toward the epicenter, because they'll be needed very soon.

    If The Big One ever hits, this might save a lot of lives and damage to a lot of useful rescue equipment miles from the epicenter.

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