WCoast Quake Warning System Working 10/18 06:39
PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Automated alerts from the fledgling West Coast
earthquake early warning system are ready to be used broadly by businesses,
utilities, schools and other entities but not for mass public notification,
officials said Wednesday.
"We're making a large change from a production prototype in pilot mode to an
open-for-business operational mode," Doug Given, earthquake early warning
coordinator for the U.S. Geological Survey, told a press conference at the
California Institute of Technology.
The system being built for California, Oregon and Washington detects that an
earthquake is occurring, quickly analyzes the data and sends out alerts that
may give warnings of several seconds to a minute before strong shaking arrives
at locations away from the epicenter.
That can be enough time to automatically slow trains, stop industrial
processes, start backup generators, pause a surgery or send students scrambling
for protection under desks and table.
Pilot programs involving select users have been underway for several years.
"The system is not yet finished, it's not complete, there is a lot of work
to be done, however there is a lot of capability in the system as it exists
today to the point it can definitely be used," Given said.
The sensor network is about 50 percent complete and funding has been secured
to complete it in California in the next two years and get two-thirds of the
way built out in the Pacific Northwest, he said.
Another key development occurred Sept. 28 when a new generation of
ShakeAlert software was deployed.
Given said among its important improvements is reduction of false and missed
alerts. False alerts typically have occurred when a large quake elsewhere in
the world is detected by a sensor and is mistaken for a local temblor.
"The system performs now much better than it did in the past to the point
where it is much more reliable," he said.
Officials now want to open ShakeAlert to a wide array of applications and
are encouraging potential users to contact the USGS.
That doesn't yet include mass public notifications for several reasons,
including the fact that current cellphone technology is too slow for timely
delivery of notifications.
"Most folks expect to get the alerts on their phone and that is of course is
the preferred way that we'd like to get it into everybody's hands," Given said.
"Unfortunately the technology that is built into your phone to send you
notifications was not designed with earthquake early warning in mind."
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who has championed funding of the system, said
it will also be important to make sure people know what the alerts mean, what
to do when they get them, what not to do and to understand there may be false
"The education component is going to be very, very important, but this is a
wonderful milestone," he said. "We can now see the end, I hope, in two or three
years where the system is fully built out and funded and in operation."