ShakeAlert, the Earthquake Early Warning System

Supriti Tripathy

10th Aug'21
ShakeAlert, the Earthquake Early Warning System | OpenGrowth

In technology, whatever can be done will be done – Andrew S Grove

When has technology not surprised us? With the advent of sensors, Artificial Intelligence and IoT, we knew our scientists wouldn't stop there. This time, they are back with a powerful invention, ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning system (EEWS) that alerts people based on seismic vibrations. It has recently gone live on the west coast of the US, and the US Geological Survey (USGS) operates it in association with state and university partners. It does not directly warn of earthquakes per se but alerts data centers of any shakes prevalent. So, before the increase in magnitude of the quake, data centers process and alert authorities who direct people to take measures accordingly. 




Why is it Important?

To begin with, Washington is one of the hot spots of earthquakes. They are persistent every year and cause many times. Estimates indicate that the Puget Sound Basin of Washington is likely to experience an earthquake of about 6.5 magnitudes or more in the next 50 years. The West Coast of the US that is very susceptible to seismic risk has suffered a massive loss of about $6.1 billion over the years. Earthquakes, a natural calamity and a threat to lives and properties, need a solution, and the EEWS has come as a breath of fresh air.




The Technique

The ShakeAlert System does nothing concerning the incoming earthquakes; instead, it detects the presence of a tremor through the ground motion sensors. It is redefining technology where first energy radiates from an earthquake is called the P (Primary) wave energy, which has no serious consequence. This energy is propagated to the mediums to assess the earthquake's intensity, magnitude, and location. This way prepares the masses of the anticipated areas to learn to adopt survival methods of Drop, Cover or Hold On before the severe S (Secondary) Wave crawls in.



The time gap between the shaking alert and the earthquake to reach finally is enough to make decisions. This quick action prevents casualties in the aftermath of the calamity.

Here is how the ShakeAlert can help save from perils:


  • The alert can stop automobiles from moving.
  • It can instruct people to move away from dangerous heavy machinery and take stairs than elevators. 
  • It can halt industries' operations till the situation subsides.
  • We can safely place delicate machinery, shut down valves, pumps, and blowers.
  • Authorities can pause the process of surgeries and other essential procedures for the time.
  • Offices can ensure the safety of employees through personnel protection and opening emergency firehouse exits.
  • Officials can shut down power Stations to ensure no damage.


How Far Have We Come?

The implementation started in the year 2016, and Phase 1 was tested successfully in 2018. Recently Phase 3 has been launched and tested in Washington. USGS aims to work tirelessly with federal and state agencies to alert them on a region-to-region basis and save them from imminent danger. Some of the 40 association partners that help deliver the alert notification messages are FEMA, companies, and cellular carriers. The current version has fulfilled all the cybersecurity conditions and is working on improvising its operational procedures.


Other Places of Installation

EEWS is not new to the world; countries like China, Japan, Italy, Mexico, Turkey, among few others, have already tracked ground shocks to prevent damages from earthquakes. Mexico's Early Warning System reads vigorous shakes from large earthquakes through a series of sensors. The system has been operational since 1991, and the time gap between alert and action is a little more if the shaking is experienced somewhere far from the city. Japan further developed its already well-planned version of the EEWS to detect more robust shaking post the Kobe Earthquake.

Several other means are employed to test the effective way to produce early estimate results. Examples such as the GPS(Global Positioning System) satellites' real-time data can help measure the accurate area that the earthquake can cover. Many low-cost sensors at places of utility in the urban regions help detect the magnitude of the incoming earthquake. Even though the implementation of the seismic system is a work-in-progress, we are already hopeful of a sophisticated solution to the occurrence of unpredictable calamities in the future.


Peeping out into the Future

The alerts will function similarly to the AMBER alerts that help authorities locate abducted children. The interface is user-friendly and alerts you through your android phones' operating system. The report suggests that about 35% of work is yet to complete for Washington to become the ShakeAlert hub. USGS plans to add more seismometers by the end of 2025 to enhance the system and take earthquake safety measures for the entire west coast. Infrastructure Advancement for regional seismic networks and investment in different sensors, telemetry, and data processing systems are underway. They are also working hard to enhance the communication process to reduce the time gap between detection and alert asif in hyper automation.


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A believer of good things and pursuer of diverse avocation, she is a fiction lover and a simple writer. Supriti has a number of professions to her list and she feels challenges are the only answers to failures.