Today’s Solutions: January 21, 2022

Due to the unpredictable nature of earthquakes, we usually have far less time to prepare for these natural disasters than others such as tornadoes or hurricanes. The good news is that researchers have been able to design earthquake alert systems that can offer some advanced warning and allow affected residents to get to safer ground in anticipation. 

In a big milestone for public safety, researchers announced this week that the U.S. earthquake early warning system now covers the entire West Coast of the country. 

The system works by using highly sensitive seismographs to detect potential earthquakes and notifying residents in affected areas by way of a phone alert. With communication systems that can now move faster than waves move through the Earth, the system can provide residents with anywhere from a few seconds to up to several minutes to prepare for an earthquake. Although this may not sound like a lot, giving people the opportunity to exit structures or shelter under furniture could be potentially lifesaving in a large quake. In facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, and schools, these notifications are especially valuable. 

The earthquake alert system was first introduced in Los Angeles in 2018 and then the rest of California, but now residents in Oregon and Washington will also have access to the technology. 

There are several ways residents can receive alerts. The Wireless Emergency Alert system sends out notifications to all phones, similar to Amber Alerts, but free apps like MyShake and QuakeAlertUSA often offer faster alerts than the public system. Google has also partnered with researchers to offer an early warning system on their Android mobile operating systems.

Other countries like Japan, Taiwan, and Mexico have already implemented similar nationwide alert systems. Although seismic technology is fairly accurate at predicting quakes up to magnitude 8, the next step is to improve this technology to more accurately predict earthquake magnitude and specific locations. 

Although a minute of warning isn’t much, offering some form of earthquake alert for the entire West Coast of the US is a momentous achievement in protecting against some of the world’s most unpredictable disasters.

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