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An Early Warning System For Earthquakes

kdawson posted more than 7 years ago | from the whole-lotta-shakin' dept.

Science 147

Iphtashu Fitz writes "Would 15 seconds be enough warning time to prepare for an earthquake? It certainly wouldn't be long enough to evacuate from where you live, but it may be just long enough to get out of a building or brace yourself in a doorframe or under a solid desk. Italian scientists may have discovered a way to measure the initial shockwave of an earthquake two seconds after it starts, and from it predict the extent of the destructive secondary wave that will follow. It typically takes twenty seconds for the secondary wave to spread 40 miles, so sensors that can transmit warnings at the speed of light may provide just enough warning before a major quake for people to brace themselves. Even more importantly, such a warning could allow for utilities like gas companies to close safety valves, preventing potential fires or explosions in the aftermath of the quake."

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147 comments

An early posting system also released (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17122622)

To detect first posts.

One powerful earthquake? (4, Interesting)

solafide (845228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122650)

It takes 20 seconds for it to travel 40 miles? How much power has that secondary wave lost in those 40 miles? Wouldn't it take one really powerful earthquake for you to need to take cover 40 miles from the epicenter?

(I'm not an expert on earthquakes, but 40 miles seems like a long way for the earthquake to travel.)

Re:One powerful earthquake? (3, Informative)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122706)

"Wouldn't it take one really powerful earthquake for you to need to take cover 40 miles from the epicenter?"

Yes.
Our house is about 20 miles from epicenter of the 1994 Northridge quake, the most costly quake ever recorded ( California housing is expensive ), and it was not damaged at all. I don't recall Oakland or Berkeley suffering much from the SF earthquake in the 90s, and they are less than 40 miles away.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122790)

If by no, you mean yes your correct.

Depends on location, soil, etc.. for example, if you live at the end of the fault, you will experience a much stronger event.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (5, Informative)

sfjoe (470510) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122922)


The collapsed Cyprus freeway was in Oakland. It's believed that earthquake waves travel horizontally through the crust and can also be reflected off of harder layers further down. If the original wave and the reflected wave harmonize they can be extremely destructive even many miles from the epicenter.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (3, Interesting)

davidsyes (765062) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124642)

I was lucky that day. I had only minutes before left Grand View (Chinese) Restaurant (they changed names to Fortune after the quake) with a few cartons of food and couldn't decide whether to go straight back to Milpitas or to dart over to Embarcadero and shoot a few pictures.

By the time I'd decided it wouldn't be good to get the food late to some people I told about the restaurant, when I decided to head on south, I was barely out of Oakland, somewhere south of Cypress on 880 because. Had I gone to SF, I'd have been SOMEwhere on the Cypress. It's possible I could have also been somewhere before the fallen deck section, but that all could have depended on how many people on the Cypress would have been in my way (back then I might have wanted to speed, might have just relaxed and slipped in and cranked up my Depeche Mode cassettes, (but instead I kept the KGO talk on), blah blah blah...) and I am SURE I'd have probably died that day had I not just taken the food straight to my friend.

I think I was barely north of the Marina shopping outlet when my steering started acting up. I couldn't believe my barely 1 year old car was acting up. Then the radio went out. There wasn't too much traffic in that section, so my eyes fixated partly on the road and partly on the trees. When I saw them swaying, I knew my car was OK, but the radio was hissing. Only a few weeks earlier IIRC, KGO's antenna near the Dumbarton Bridge went out and needed repairs, so I thought they were having problems. I tuned to other stations only to hear noise and mostly silence, but sporadic bits mentioned major earthquake.

Fortunately, the roads don't open up like they do in hollywierd flicks. Fortunately it wasn't in the thick of commuter traffic, or there might have been collisions all up and down the freeway for dozens of miles if anyone freaked and lost control of the car. I was fortunate that day...

Re:One powerful earthquake? (4, Informative)

brian1078 (230523) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123262)

The epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake was in the Santa Cruz mountains, about 60 miles south of San Francisco and Oakland. Some of the worst damage was in these areas. The "Cypress Structure" of the I-880 freeway collapsed, as did a portion of the Bay Bridge. In the town, another 20 miles north of Oakland, I lived in at the time there was considerable damage to some older structures as well as to personal property.

I would have been happy to have the 15 seconds notice.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (2, Informative)

thebdj (768618) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123662)

Our house is about 20 miles from epicenter of the 1994 Northridge quake

Then apparently you were lucky [wikipedia.org].

BTW, that 1990s quake, was 1989. And damage was severe upwards of 50 miles away, if you check here. [wikipedia.org]
BTW, its epicenter was closer to Santa Cruz, so it did a lot of damage considering it travelled nearly 50+ miles to reach the bay.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (5, Interesting)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122726)

1985, Mexico City, buildings collapsed when the center of the earthquake was 400 km away. That one was unusual but it shows what's possible.

The other thing you can do with 10-20 seconds of warning is apply emergency brakes on the bullet trains, which I believe Japan has arranged to do.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (3, Insightful)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122904)

"1985, Mexico City, buildings collapsed when the center of the earthquake was 400 km away. That one was unusual but it shows what's possible."

No, it shows what Mexican building codes are like.

don't forget the bribes (1)

r00t (33219) | more than 7 years ago | (#17125132)

It really doesn't matter if the building code specifies that all buildings are to be machined from 1-piece cast aluminum blocks.

Pay the inspector, and you can live in a house of bricks held together with dried cow dung.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (2, Interesting)

Bif Powell (726774) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123396)

>>Mexico City, buildings collapsed when the center of the earthquake was 400 km away.

Cinco de Mayo [wikipedia.org] probably has that kind of blast radius as far as knocking over buildings in Mexico.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (2, Informative)

mla_anderson (578539) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122744)

The epicenter of the Kashmir earthquake (2005, Pakistan & India, 7.6) was 62 miles (100km) away from Islamabad and yet it knocked an apartment building down.

Re:One powerful earthquake? (2, Informative)

drpimp (900837) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123426)

It really all depends on what types of crust your epicenter and surrounding areas are, along with depth of the epicenter. Crust content surrounding an epicenter can also increase or decrease wave displacement, direction, and force. Giving a maximum distance for initial or secondary waves, can only be estimated based on the recorded seismic history of a given area and the surrounding crust, any estimate are in fact only that. Living in Southern Cali myself, I can tell you, I have felt quakes for 60+ miles, of course they felt like someone walking with lead feet in the house and no damage what so ever, but the fact that it was felt is a good example that they can travel farther.

Safety valves? (4, Interesting)

EaglemanBSA (950534) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122692)

There would still be gas in the main lines, how would shutting a safety valve keep a broken pipe from leaking gas already in it?

Re:Safety valves? (3, Informative)

frosty_tsm (933163) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122784)

Possibly it would prevent the continued flow of gas to the pipe. Some would still leak, but either the gas would burn out quickly or dissipate before it's ignited.

Re:Safety valves? (2, Informative)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124470)

I think this damage mitigation is the basic idea. It's almost impossible to prevent a rupture, but should it rupture, you don't want gas to continually push through it. Gas often dissipates very quickly, but if it has a constant supply and happen to have a spark nearby, then it's asking for trouble that could have been avoided if you had shut-off valves.

Re:Safety valves? (2, Interesting)

TransEurope (889206) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122830)

Great idea. Another thing is to automatically
interrupt the electricity in the buildings to prevent
fires caused by short-circuits. But what would it cost
to equip all houses in San Francisco (or any big or medium
sized city) with such systems? Maybe billions of dollars.

Re:Safety valves? (1)

chaoticgeek (874438) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123388)

Would they be able to do this at the distribution center? Like shut grids of power off, and shut valves that supply that area. Seems kinda feasible to me unless its jut one big pipe that goes to every house in the area of all of California. Then again I don't know about that so I could be wrong.

Re:Safety valves? (1)

GrievousMistake (880829) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123838)

Yes, the first thing to do in a disaster situation is to deprive the victims of electric light and heat, and radio and television. Darkness is so conductive to disaster recovery.
You know, a lot of houses are already equipped with these neat things called fuses.
(Yes, yes. No need to be sarcastic. But I was anyway.)

Circuit Interruption, etc. (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124524)

Another thing is to automatically interrupt the electricity in the buildings to prevent fires caused by short-circuits. But what would it cost to equip all houses in San Francisco (or any big or medium sized city) with such systems?

If you really wanted to do that, you'd do it at the substation level. But I doubt you would. Substations already have circuit interrupting switchgear, houses have fuses and breakers, outlets in particularly hazardous locations have GFIs. Electricity won't leak out and start a roaring inferno like your gas service could.

Re:Safety valves? (1)

kryten_nl (863119) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122842)

It doesn't. But closing valves, while everything is still operational, might make the length of pipe, that is affected, a lot smaller.

Re:Safety valves? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17124204)

perhaps having computers auto shut off the gas leaks (as most people couldn't do it within the needed time.

hope that helps

Radon (3, Interesting)

APE992 (676540) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122700)

My geology professor has gone over it again and again, Radon could potentially be an early warning system in some cases. Naturally the stuff leaks out of the ground, before an earthquake more of it is supposed to come out due to the shifting of the ground up to the earthquake. This could be months, days, minutes that this is detectable. Someone with a better understanding please correct anything and add to this.

Re:Radon (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17123284)

My geology professor has gone over it again and again, Radon could potentially be an early warning system in some cases. Naturally the stuff leaks out of the ground, before an earthquake more of it is supposed to come out due to the shifting of the ground up to the earthquake. This could be months, days, minutes that this is detectable.
On the other hand, radon levels could flunctuate for all sorts of reasons. Any corrective action that takes hours to days to implement would be highly disruptive in case of false alarms. Even if the warning isn't a false alarm, an imprecise warning isn't much good for taking corrective actions on shorter time scales. Do you think people are going to put up with being cut off from their gas lines just because an earthquake might happen in the next couple days, hours, or minutes?

The nice thing about this work is that you know the earthquake has already happened. It's imminent, on the scale of seconds, not minutes, hours, or days. While a precise, accurate warning farther out would be nice, a precise, accurate warning on short time scales is more useful than an imprecise or inaccurate warning on any time scale.

Re:Radon (2, Insightful)

The_Wilschon (782534) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123700)

Gosh, I did a seventh grade research paper ages ago on predicting earthquakes. I did mention radon... However, the conclusion of my paper was that earthquakes really couldn't be reliably predicted, so I suppose that some source I had said that you really couldn't effectively use radon as a good predictor, but I can't remember why exactly.

Some speculation: Perhaps false positives were an issue. After all, shutting a city down for an earthquake is an expensive proposition (just in lost time if nothing else), and if it turns out that the false positive rate is high, the cost would make it intractable. Also, I think an even bigger issue would be the very fact that it could be "months, days, minutes" before the quake. Radon might predict that a quake was likely soon, but is it going to be in 10 minutes, or is it going to be in two months? You certainly couldn't keep everyone on earthquake shutdown for two months.

Sigh (5, Informative)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122764)

"... brace yourself in a doorframe ..."

this is a myth. The only thing this acomplishes is broken fingers.

It stems from an observation from a red cross worker after a earthquake in mexico.(I think 1950ish.)
That archtecture of the entrance way was an adobe arch. Arches are very strong, as opposed wooden square door frames.

Re:Sigh (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17122866)

I don't know about where you live, but in my country, doors aren't just holes in the wall with a bit of wood slapped round them, they usually have a concrete lintel (sp?) over the top of them to distribute the weight of everything above them evenly, so a doorway would provide much better protection than standing in the middle of a room.

not everyone is so fortunate. (1)

Bananatree3 (872975) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123030)

they usually have a concrete lintel (sp?) over the top of them to distribute the weight of everything above them evenly, so a doorway would provide much better protection than standing in the middle of a room.

There are no hard-fast rules here. In many simple-wood frame houses here in the USA doorframes are usually a couple of 2x4's nailed together. However that is not to say every doorframe is that way. A bunker doorframe would do nicely, however not everyone has such a thing

Re:not everyone is so fortunate. (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17123322)

I have seen more 2x8s or 10s (usually short pieces from the scrap pile after the sills or rafters are put in) used as the headers in doorways. And being on edge, then over the studs, that makes doorways much stronger than the rest of the wall, even though the gap is larger. I don't think just a 2x4 slapped sideways on top flies many places any more for code, geez, not for decdes maybe. I know some places have almost no code, but just simple framing tends to be almost universal.

Re:not everyone is so fortunate. (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123594)

In many simple-wood frame houses here in the USA doorframes are usually a couple of 2x4's nailed together. However that is not to say every doorframe is that way. A bunker doorframe would do nicely, however not everyone has such a thing

If you live in an area where significant earthquakes are probable you have laws restricting how you are allowed to build; you won't have doorframes made from a couple of flimsy boards.

In Kobe most of the damage and almost all of the deaths were in old buildings erected before there was any meaningful building codes in effect. And many of the deaths were not directly from the quake itself, but from trapped or unconcious people getting caught in fires. And a warning system like this could stop most fires by shutting electricity and gas beforehand. Even if you still would have had some fire, the amount and severity would have been greatly reduced, making it feasible for the rescue and firefighting teams to get on top of it much faster.

Re:Sigh (4, Informative)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123042)

There's still a door swinging in it. Depending on which way you're facing, you could get your fingers pinched in the hinges and mangled, or slammed into by a closing door and mangled.

Drop, cover, and hold is what the Red Cross is teaching, after considerable research.

First-world building are unlikely to collapse but you don't want to be hit by falling chunks of ceiling. Get under something like a table ("drop and cover") that will intercept some debris before it hits you.

The table will likely start walking across the room as everything moves up and down and sideways. Keep a grip on a leg of the table or whatever and "hold" so that it doesn't walk away from you.

Doesn't have to be a table, and improvising is good. At the grocery store you could use a shopping cart, for example.

Japanese government advises the same (1)

patio11 (857072) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123394)

If things start shaking, I follow the advice on my safety pamphlet: go straight to the kitchen (room in the house with the least things to fall from above in my circumstance), get under the table, and stay there until the shaking stops plus a few minutes to ride out the aftershock and any settling of objects in the cabinets. Unfortunately the earthquake always seems to happen when I've in the bath or otherwise naked. I remember being scared out of my wits during my first earthquake (grew up in Illinois) and wondering "Now how will this look if the police come and find a stark-naked dripping white corpse under my kitchen table. The neighbors will be talking for months."

"First-world building are unlikely to collapse..." (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17123748)

Yep. Like, say, the World Trade Center.

Loma Prieta deaths from this. (2, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123268)

"... brace yourself in a doorframe ..."

this is a myth. The only thing this acomplishes is broken fingers.


A very dangerous myth, too. Most of the deaths in Loma Prieta may have resulted from this myth.

There were 57 deaths attributed directly to the earthquake, and 42 of them were in the Cypress Street Viaduct collapse.

At the start of the earthquake, the drivers stopped. Because of the myth, most of them tried to stop under the arches. When the strucutre collapsed, the arches came all the way down to the pavement, pancaking the cars beneath them, while the regions between the arches had enough space that it was possible, in many cases, to survive the collapse itself.

- - - -

Of course a lot of the deaths there are attributable, not just to the quake, but also to governmental interference with volunteer rescue attempts.

Most of those who survived the initial collapse were still trapped in their cars or the structure itself. When the quake hit virtually all of the the nearby citizens dropped what they were doing (along with any inter-group animosity) and immediately began rescue efforts. (A notable part of this was workers at a nearby warehouse improvising an elevator using a dumpster and a forklift.) The pulled quite a few out of the collapsed structure's "sandwitch" in the first half-hour or so (at considerable risk to themselves, especially given the risk of further collapse or rolling debris due to aftershocks). Then the authorities arrived.

The police kicked them out and cordoned off the area to await the official first responders. They eventually arrived - around sundown. Then they had insufficient light (given the power failure) and mainly waited around further for portable lighting to arrive. It was several hours before rescue attempts, with a smaller force of official rescuers, resumed. (Of course by then the "golden hour" [wikipedia.org] had long since expired and those who had been in shock were now dead or beyond hope.)

Re:Loma Prieta deaths from this. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17123442)

When did they have doors in the Cypress Street Viaduct?

Re:Loma Prieta deaths from this. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124032)

When did they have doors in the Cypress Street Viaduct?

They had archways under the roadway at each set of supporting legs.

Drivers aware of the "get in a door because it has a frame to protect you" story interpreted these as equivalent and selectively stopped in the worst possible place.

Not enough time (2, Interesting)

El Cubano (631386) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122838)

Would 15 seconds be enough warning time to prepare for an earthquake?

Nope. But a few hours to a few days [ieee.org] would be lots better.

Re:Not enough time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17123020)

If I was going to be in an earthquake, I wouldn't mind having 15 seconds warning. You can ignore the warning if you choose.

Re:Not enough time (3, Insightful)

Pyromage (19360) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123488)

Of course more time would be better. However, nearly everything important can be done in 15 seconds. The really critical things. Like getting the generators at the hospital up to keep the ICU running. Closing gas mains. Taking the scapel out of the guys brain during surgery.

You can't drive home from the grocery store and strap yourself into bed in 15 seconds, but you can do a lot of really really important things in that time.

Might not be as good (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124708)

The IEEE article is about what amounts to a strain gauge, which (if confirmed) tells you that something is about to crack but doesn't tell you how far and how widely the fault is going to unload itself. There's some reason to suspect that when an earthquake starts it doesn't "know" how big it's going to be.

Once the p-wave hits, though, you know what kind of ground acceleration to expect.

Re:Not enough time (2, Interesting)

Sibko (1036168) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124822)

Would 15 seconds be enough warning time to prepare for an earthquake?

Yes, it would.

I worked at a shipping warehouse, and I can tell you that even 5 seconds of warning prior to an earthquake could save the lives of workers. The goods are stacked up 4-5 stories high, and each crate easily weighs half a ton or more. It wouldn't take much shaking to knock the top ones down and crush people.

Considering the size of the building I worked at, the only real options available would be to either get out of the isle as fucking fast as you could, or to get under the girders supporting the crates. 15 seconds of warning would be plenty of time for me to hop on my pallet-jack and drive to the dock before anything happened. So yeah, even 15 seconds of warning could mean the difference between being alive, and being crushed under a crate of peanutbutter.

15 seconds (2, Funny)

rolyatknarf (973068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122852)

is barely enough time to evacuate your bowels - let alone prepare for a large quake.

Re:15 seconds (1)

robzon (981455) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122938)

But it's probably enough to save many lives. Sometimes 15 seconds is all it takes to significantly increase your chance of survival.

Re:15 seconds - not much (1)

rolyatknarf (973068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123200)

"Sometimes 15 seconds is all it takes to significantly increase your chance of survival."

You are right but only in some instances. I was at work in a factory in Emeryville, CA in 1989 during the Loma Prieta Earthquake. I was a mile or so from the Cypress Street Viaduct when it collapsed. 15 seconds in that case meant nothing at all. All we could do was hold on and hope the building didn't fall in on us. When you are really terrified it's nearly impossible to do much in 15 seconds.

Re:15 seconds - not much (1)

flibbajobber (949499) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123506)

So you do drills. You practice moving without panic when an alarm goes off. Maybe you were terrified when your building started shaking, but when was the last time that ringing bells paralysed you with fear?

Re:15 seconds - not much (1)

ewl1217 (922107) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123608)

Ringing bells alone won't paralyze you with fear (at least not normal people...), but when they mean that there's an earthquake and that the building you're in might collapse on you then they sure could.

Re:15 seconds - not much (1)

rolyatknarf (973068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124310)

Over 150 workers, many near the center of a 300,000 square foot manufacturing plant full of very loud machinery, a hundred feet from the nearest exit with indirect narrow isles leading to the door, lighting provided only by emergency floods. Warning lights and bells for 15 seconds may seem like a lot to you, but in that situation it would have made absolutely no difference to those of us in that building. It would have been just enough time for a few to make it to the door and out. All the practice and drills will not prepare you for the real thing when it happens. You sometimes just have to take your chances where you stand. Sometimes the danger comes too fast for any reaction at all.

"when was the last time that ringing bells paralysed you with fear?"

When was the last time you rode out an earthquake in a building with no place to hide? I'm sure you are a very brave person but it is easy to just talk about fear.

Re:15 seconds - not much (1)

ChiPHeaD23 (147491) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124700)

Your workplace sounds like a really well-designed death trap. The warning is a good idea regardless of whether or not your particular place of work is designed to kill as many people as possible in case of earthquake-induced collapse.

Re:15 seconds - not much (1)

rolyatknarf (973068) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124880)

You work at a desk right? Some of us lesser folks work in factories. Factories full of machines aren't the tidy little places we would all like them to be.

You win this discussion. I'll just lean back in my chair and wait for the New Madrid fault to break south of where I live now. I hope I hear those warning bells first.

Re:15 seconds (1)

neuro.slug (628600) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122940)

Ahem. I, for one, don't want to shit myself in the middle of a massive earthquake, so maybe that's what the warning system should be used for: Avoid embarrassing smelly aftershocks in your pants!

Re:15 seconds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17123056)

I don't know what kind of operation you're running, but I try to make my entire bathroom trip fit within a 15-20 second window. The key is to anticipate your needs before you get there. Consider a high-fiber diet, or pile up on strong laxatives in the time before your planned trip to the bathroom. Look out for apartments with interior design that lends itself to washing your hands while sitting on the toilet. A makeshift hose bidet can be attached to the sink or shower faucet and can easily stretch to meet any cleanup needs. Garden supply stores carry a wide range of spray nozzles that may help increase water pressure in case of particularly adhesive soiling.

When you feel the urge, wait until the last possible moment, and when the time comes, enter the bathroom, strip your pants down (it may help to do some timed drills) as you sit, and let loose with both barrels the instant before you hit the seat. Meantime, reach over and turn the faucet on to warm up for washing and the bidet. By this time, you should be about done. With one hand, apply the bidet. The other hand may be dispensing soap. When finished with the bidet, proceed with hand scrubbing. Stand up, rinse off your hands, pull up your pants, and you're out.

Total time, with practice, should be no more than twenty seconds. In other words, if you're going to die in an earthquake, you can at least preserve yourself the dignity of not soiling your shorts when you go.

Doesn't japan have something like this? (3, Interesting)

Hays (409837) | more than 7 years ago | (#17122952)

I thought the high speed trains in Japan would stop in the event of an earthquake (before the earthquake actually hit them), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen [wikipedia.org]

"In the event of an earthquake, an earthquake detection system can bring the train to a stop very quickly"

Anyway, the idea of a broadcast system to warn of an earthquake is pretty obvious, the engineering task of doing it right without false positives is pretty difficult I bet.

Re:Doesn't japan have something like this? (1)

Bushcat (615449) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124886)

There are sensors all over the place.

http://www.hinet.bosai.go.jp/AQUA/aqua_eq.php [bosai.go.jp] shows the location of any recent earthquake.

http://www.hinet.bosai.go.jp/AQUA/max_amp.php [bosai.go.jp] shows all earthquakes, as animated maps. Check out 2006/11/15 20:15:58 for a very interesting animation.

http://www.hinet.bosai.go.jp/ [bosai.go.jp] is the main page.

In terms of real time alerts, if the earthquake web site's down, it means there's been an earthquake.

Yes! And already implemented! (1)

achurch (201270) | more than 7 years ago | (#17125050)

Since March 30 of this year, Japan's Meteorological Agency [jma.go.jp] has been operating a nationwide system [kishou.go.jp] [Japanese] to measure P-waves and estimate the earthquake's strength before the S-waves hit. While they say it's still experimental, it's been brought up in the news several times, and has in fact predicted [kishou.go.jp] [Japanese--partial list only] several significant earthquakes successfully, though it's put out a few false alarms as well. (One false alarm is listed as having been caused by a lightning strike, and they wrote that they deliberately accept such false alarms to maximize the pre-earthquake warning time for real earthquakes, rather than wait for additional data to come in that would delay the warning.)

With respect to the Shinkansen, I'm pretty sure they take advantage of this system, as do at least some other railways in the Tokyo area (I don't recall which). The data is also supposedly sent around to places like city halls, schools, etc.

The big problem with systems like these is that you can't just attach them to loudspeakers and whatnot, because whether it's not a false alarm or not, such broadcasts would easily lead to panic and stampedes that could cause more injuries and even deaths than the earthquake itself. So don't go looking for big "Earthquake Warning" boards next time you're in Japan, because you won't find them--the agency is being very careful with who they give the data to, at least for now.

Load (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123034)

..of crap. 15 seconds my ass.


When you've lived in San Francisco and/or Tokyo as I have, you move without thinking.

And if that means climbing over you to get to the exit, then buddy you better duck, 'cause I'm coming thru :)

how about just overpasses (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123058)

just huge strobes-- don't get on the overpass-- and the underpass...

*** HALT MFKR ***
                or enter chasm

15 seconds enough to keep you from becoming a autobutter sandwich or a car contained base jumper?

Its being done now, (2, Informative)

budgenator (254554) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123068)

While the article is quite light on details, much work has been done in this area, by groups such as ElarmS [elarms.org] in California, if your interested in the methodology take a look at Allen's [elarms.org] paper "Rapid magnitude determination for earthquake early warning (a 7 pg. PDF) which is reasonable understandable by lay persons if you skip through the math, yet still informative for people in the field.

I had a system like this years ago (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17123106)

I kept a set of decorative cutlery on my headboard. Never once was injured during an earthquake, just suffered some facial lacerations and lost the sight in my left eye.

Already sold in Greece (1)

wikinerd (809585) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123248)

Here in Greece we constantly suffer from nasty earthquakes. A company [egelados.gr] led by a well-known seismologist here sells products like the one mentioned. It also sells metallic boxes where you can hide inside during a quake. Too bad I haven't got any of these products, they could save my life one day. However, I believe there is no better protection against quakes than living in a flexible wooden house that 'moves' together with the seismic waves as they pass, instead of these stupid concrete boxes that break apart because they tend to resist against the seismic waves (and we all know nothing artificial can resist natural forces for too long, except for those things that are inspired by nature itself, like wooden houses). Also note that Ancient Greek temples never had any problem during 3000 years of earthquakes. Today building companies seek to maximise profits by keeping costs down, without researching how simple solutions like a stone over another stone sticked to it with some earth can drastically improve the behaviour of our houses to earthquakes.

Re:Already sold in Greece (2, Insightful)

The MAZZTer (911996) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123326)

Ah but which building designs would fare better in a hurricane or tornado? Flooding? We have more than just earthquakes for natural disasters...

Re:Already sold in Greece (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124858)

Structurally integrated ones help with all those.

Seismic retrofitting, among other things, straps together the different stories of a building and strengthens the connection to the foundation, putting "shear walls" over studs, and generally making the structure more of a unit so that an earthquake can't play divide and conquer (search term: "soft story").

Hurricane resistance requires the same kind of thinking: tie the roof to the rest of the structure.

Re:Already sold in Greece (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123670)

However, I believe there is no better protection against quakes than living in a flexible wooden house that 'moves' together with the seismic waves as they pass, instead of these stupid concrete boxes that break apart because they tend to resist against the seismic waves (and we all know nothing artificial can resist natural forces for too long, except for those things that are inspired by nature itself, like wooden houses).

Most deaths in Kobe were in "flexible wooden houses", while your "stupid concrete boxes" are standing nicely today.

Re:Already sold in Greece (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17124340)

Flexible wooden houses with incredibly heavy clay tiled roofs. I'm also skeptical of wooden houses being any better than properly reinforced concrete (there being many different types), but there is no easy comparison between traditional Japanese wood houses and Western wood houses.

Building engineering (1)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124802)

>a flexible wooden house that 'moves' together with the seismic waves

Unless it slides off the foundation. You need some rigidity.

Wood can be good, steel can be good, even reinforced concrete can be good. The thing you need that no building provides enough of is "damping", energy dissipation, what a shock absorber does. Imagine a car with no springs, then imagine a car with only springs, and you've got two lousy rides. The architectural equivalent of a shock absorber is a material which drags its feet when you deform it. Steel is wonderful for this: an earthquake can lose a lot of energy deforming a beam and then straightening it out again. Concrete will absorb energy by developing small cracks: the problem is that after enough shaking the small cracks join and get large and you have a structure of rebar holding gravel. The rebar can bow outward like a Chinese lantern and the floor collapses, unless the rebar was installed in a helical pattern in which case it may hold the gravel in place long enough to evacuate the building. Look closely at freeway construction in earthquake zones, and you'll see dense rebar that winds around the center of a column.

Wooden houses are great because an earthquake can wear itself out scraping plywood sheathing against studs.

High speed transport (1)

IWannaBeAnAC (653701) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123272)

Importantly, while 15 seconds is probably not enough time for something like a high speed train to stop, I'd much rather be travelling at 50mph rather than 200mph when the earthquake hits ;-)

Re:High speed transport (1)

Firehed (942385) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123340)

I'd rather be traveling 200mph... as long as it's *away* from the quake. Or, better yet, nowhere near the thing at all.

Hard drive shock sensors? (1)

sdo1 (213835) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123296)

I thought I read about this somewhere, or maybe it just came up in conversation, but I can't find the reference...

Anyway, the idea is this: If you have a laptop with a jolt/bump sensor (I have an IBM at work that does this, I'm sure others do to), you voluntarily run some software that knows where your laptop is by its IP address and when a shock hits it, it sends that info to a central server. Normally, it will just be noise... random shocks and drops coming from all over... but when all of a sudden the server receives reports from hundreds/thousands of laptops in one area and that area grows larger quickly, that data could be used to detect an earthquake.

Is anyone doing this? Could it be a possible early warning system? That would seem to be a fairly trivial piece of software to write, at least on the client end... the shock sensor goes off, ping the home base. Making sense of the data at the other end might be harder, but seems possible.

-S

great (-1, Flamebait)

minus_273 (174041) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123384)

first it was bush killed people by not warning them in time about tsunamis, then bush caused katrina with global warming now he will be responsible for not warning people around the world in time to save them from earthquakes.

Im looking forward to those headlines.

just like . . . (1)

bendorfm (1036172) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123392)

This is somewhat like a project I did in my undergrad software engineering course. We spent the whole semester in a mock scenario role playing the software development cycle. We did everything up to implementation. Held requirements meetings with the Government of 'Claremount' - a fictional country prone to earthquakes and tsunamis (and this was before the big one that got all the attention), analysis of their needs, design of a detection grid and alert systems. Created UML diagrams for a java implementation, just didn't get to into the details. Thought about major classes, methods, attributes etc. Anyhow, it was an interesting project - and even more interesting to see how they will/are do(ing) it in real life.

warning (1)

phrostie (121428) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123466)

reminds me of the tornado warnings in middle america/central plains.
by the time the Hams radioed that one was on the ground, it was confirmed, and a signal was sent to ativate the system, the tornados were often over.

as my dad used to say, survivors will be notified.

we just listened to the hams our selves.

will there be a consumer version of this?

Re:warning (1)

Rob the Bold (788862) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124668)

reminds me of the tornado warnings in middle america/central plains. by the time the Hams radioed that one was on the ground, it was confirmed, and a signal was sent to ativate the system, the tornados were often over.

Most tornados are spotted by radar now. Much more effective than human spotters, particularly at night. We've got multiple zones per county in some areas, so only sirens in a tornado's path are sounded. There's plenty of warning of tornados here, usually.p> One disadvantage of the automated approach is that radar doesn't see ground-level straight-line winds very well. So called "microbursts" of >100mph wind concentrated in a small area of several blocks can cause as much damage as a tornado, and not get picked up by the warning network. I was in the "throne room" of my apartment when one of these blew through. My ears popped at the sudden, severe pressure drop. Several roofs got damaged, chimneys knocked down, one deck was re-arranged like pick up sticks and a tractor trailer got flipped over.

In general the tornado warning sustem works.

Already been done in Japan (1)

meowsqueak (599208) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123554)

http://bssa.geoscienceworld.org/cgi/content/abstra ct/95/2/708 [geoscienceworld.org]

I actually had the honour of proof-reading this paper before it was published. One of the authors is my wife's uncle.

This system is already in place and working today. It is based around a network of buried sensors that allow the accurate location of the epicenter within just a few seconds. The system is used to shut down high-speed trains, etc, before the damage-causing vibrations arrive.

It will help remove some fear (1)

AlphaLop (930759) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123850)

For example, if you know somethings coming, even if it is only with a few seconds notice it would help alleviate the fear of the unknown that is so prevalent in humans. Plus, 20 seconds notice would be time enough for bridge operators to turn on warning lights and stop the traffic over bridges and under overpasses. That alone could save many lives in the event of a particularly nasty earthquake.

All this for a 6.2% increase in warning time? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 7 years ago | (#17123996)

From TFA:

Primary waves travel around six kilometers [four miles] per second, covering around 60 kilometers [40 miles] in 10 seconds. Secondary, or S, waves, which are usually more destructive, travel more slowly, around 3.5 kilometers [2.2 miles] per second, covering only around 17 kilometers [11 miles] in 10 seconds. Therefore, a city located around 60 kilometers [40 miles] from an epicenter would have around 15 seconds of lead time to prepare for an earthquake's impact, the time difference between the arrival of the first P wave at a recording station near the epicenter and the arrival of the S wave at the city itself

So even if the sensor gave its warning the moment the fracture occurred, and it took zero time to send it, it would only give 6.19% more warning of the S wave than the arrival of the P wave itself. Add transit time from the depth of the epicenter and the distance of the nearest sensor from it, plus the two second delay while it computes the need to sound the alarm, plus the speed-of-sound delay from the alarm to your ear, plus the time it takes to recognize that the alarm is an earthquake warning, and you'd have to be pretty far away for the alarm to be more useful than just taking cover when the P wave hits.

Seems to me that earthquakes already have a faster warning system built into them - at least for warning humans - than any system that could be built on this discovery.

Now for warning our automation (such as the applications suggested in the story), which has inadquate "senses" for earthquakes but speed-of-light communication, electronic reaction times and controls mechanical processes for which a few seconds of warning might mean the difference between safe shutdown and major calamity, this could be great.

Sensor ARRAY (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17124238)

The "We have 15 seconds before the shockwave travels 40 miles." Well, that's great. Except that it's only relevant IF the sensor is right at the epicenter.

In the real world, we don't know in advance where the epicenter will be. How many of these will we need to set out to get a reasonable expectation that we will catch the next earthquake? You'll need a fairly extensive net to be able to pinpoint the center. How much will this cost to set up and operate?

The USGS has attempted this Near Parkfield, CA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17124536)

The USGS has an extensive monitoring network setup near Parkfield, CA and a couple years ago a nearby 6+ quake had no warning signs. A few false alerts by Scientists, as they have had in Parkfield, CA, and the warning system will be scrapped or ignored.

Obligatory Monty Pyton quote... (1)

SCO_Shill (805054) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124704)

Sir Arthur: Explain again how sheeps' bladders may be employed to prevent earthquakes.
Sir Bedemir: Oh, certainly, sir.

Useless (1)

iamacat (583406) | more than 7 years ago | (#17124832)

You may be able to leave a two floor residence in 15 seconds - if you are prepared to start running every time of day or night. As it is, you probably wouldn't even realize what is happening before the wave hits. In highrise office buildings, there is no chance you can get out of elevator in time.

trolL (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17124986)

over the same Don't be a sling resulted in the To look into AMERICA) might be of *BSD asswipes for all practical themselves to be a Track of whe@re
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