Presently, scientists and seismologists alike have been unable to predict a major earthquake (USGS.gov 2017). According to the USGS, they do not know how to predict quakes and cannot anticipate when this fact will change (https://www2.usgs.gov/faq/categories/9830/3278). This understanding is unsettling because a major earthquake could hit at any time and no one would have the slightest clue that it was coming. To help with this issue, there is an earthquake early warning system that is being developed. The system, ShakeAlert, does not predict where or when an earthquake will occur. However, it does warn people as early as possible once the seismometers closest to the epicenter of the Earthquake detect seismic activity. For example, as was the case during a magnitude 6 earthquake in Napa, CA, warnings were sent out within 5.1 seconds to users in San Francisco (IRIS Earthquake Science). This warning notified recipients that in eight seconds the strongest shaking of the quake would occur. Eight seconds may not seem important, but those valuable eight seconds could allow sufficient time for individuals to stop and take cover. ShakeAlert is not fully “active” yet. According to ShakeAlert.org, there are still steps that need to be taken in order for the system to be fully developed and tested. Efforts to make this system a reality are still in the works and USGS and its partners hope to continue its growth. Japan already has an advanced early warning system in place that notifies residents of earthquakes via phone, radio, and television. It quickly provides information to the residents about the whereabouts of the earthquake, its magnitude, and when the quake will arrive at their location. During one earthquake, it was estimated that Tokyo residents had nearly 80 seconds of warning before the shaking began. This early warning can allow for drivers to stop their cars, doctors to prep their patients, and so much more. Having a comparable system in California could save lives, by giving residents a chance to react, take action, and seek shelter.
For more information on ShakeAlert and its progress, visit their website at www.shakealert.org.