As of today when earthquakes occur people are usually found unaware, a factor contributing to increased number of deaths and injuries. Last Wednesday, Italy was hit by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake, resulting in a death toll of over 290 people and numerous injuries. This brings about the question of whether earthquake can be predicted? The answer is that in the foreseeable future, we should not be in a position of predicting an earthquake, an answer supported by many Seismologists. What we can do is provide alerts possibly a few seconds before earthquakes so that people can take a protective position. ShakeAlert is such a system being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in collaboration with six universities.
Richard Allen, one of the ShakeAlert project leader, told TechCrunch that most people think that an earthquake as an instantaneous process, though it actually takes some time for the motion to reach us. Most earthquakes occur deep in the earth core. The distance between the core and the crust is what contributes to this delay. ShakeAlert uses a network of seismic sensors buried deep in the ground. These sensors record the ground movements and provide data to a monitoring site.
Allen explains that some sensors have already been installed in the California. The ones in Bay have been located at an interval distance of 10 or 20 kilometers apart, though other areas in the state don’t have the same density. The importance of a closer density is that they perform better. It is worth noting that ShakeAlert has been in development for the last ten year. In 2006, the USGS started funding multi-institutional, collaborative research to test warning algorithms on real-time seismic network within ANSS. Allen noted that federal government and state government have now started supporting the process of constructing the system. The USGS on 15 August awarded the six universities $3.7 million to support transitioning of the system to a productive one. Allen notes that they will need $38 million to install it and approximately $16.1 million per year to operate it in the long term.
Allen concluded by noting that they hope they will be pushing out warnings to people’s phone in the near future. He further noted that there is hope of starting to have a limited public rollout in 2018 in specific regions where they have a dense seismic network.
A similar test effort for an earthquake early warning system is being conducted in the Irpinia region of Italy. It is being carried out by the University of Naples.
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