Only a few weeks ago, on Aug. 24, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck terror across the Bay Area. Almost all were unaware until it had already struck, but one UC Berkeley professor received an early warning time of five seconds before the quake hit. It came from a $110 homemade device.
Josh Bloom has gone public with his invention to try to drive some investment into developing a statewide early earthquake warning system. California already has a warning system network in place called Shake Alert. Unfortunately, once again the politics of the situation are holding back funding of the five-year process of building it into a robust public warning system.
With all the resources and technology that mankind has available, still nobody can predict, with any concrete accuracy, when or where an earthquake will occur. An earthquake’s shockwaves are capable of moving at the speed of sound, whereas digital messages can move at the speed of light. When seismographs detect an earthquake’s early waves they can warn the areas around the epicentre before the often more dangerous waves arrive. Both Mexico and Japan have early warning systems like this. In fact, Tokyo received an estimated 80 seconds of warning before the 2011 quake struck.
The Shake Alert system used by California uses data from the California Integrated Seismological Network. A consortium that includes Caltech, UC Berkeley, the U.S. Geological Survey, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the California Geological Survey developed both systems.
Back in September 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law compelling the California Office of Emergency Services to construct it for the public. Unfortunately just $10 million of the $80 million Shake Alert needs has been received. According to The Verge.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told attendees at a warning system conference last week, “It’s a political question, not a financial question.” Bloom is able to access Shake Alert because he is on the board of the Berkeley Seismology Lab. When the device he designed receives a notification of an imminent quake via Wi-Fi, it sounds the alarm “Earthquake! Earthquake!” and then begins a countdown.
The five seconds of warning that Bloom received may not sound like a long time, but according to Shake Alert, it can only take a few seconds to turn off gas stoves and move away from heavy furniture/take cover.
Bloom made an interesting statement; “If you’re a neurosurgeon, you can put the knife away,” he said.
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[Image via en.wikipedia]