Response to Discussion Question


Early Warning System Communication System

Good predictions and warnings save lives. With only a few minutes’ notice of a tornado or flash flood, people can act to protect themselves from injury and death. Predictions and warnings can also reduce damage and economic losses. When notice of an impending disaster can be issued well in advance, as it can for some riverine floods, wildfires, and hurricanes, property and natural resources can be protected.

Scientific and technological advances in recent decades have greatly improved the nation’s capability “to predict most natural hazards and disseminate warnings based on those predictions” (A safer future: Reducing the impacts of natural disasters, 1991). However, prediction accuracy and lead times vary with the type of hazard. Prediction capabilities for “atmospheric and hydrologic” events are generally more advanced and specific than those for their “geologic counterparts” (A safer future: Reducing the impacts of natural disasters, 1991).

Earthquake early warning systems use earthquake science and the technology of “monitoring systems to alert devices and people when shaking waves generated by an earthquake are expected to arrive at their location” (Earthquake Early Warning , 2016). The seconds to minutes of advance warning can allow “people and systems to take actions to protect life and property from destructive shaking” (Earthquake Early Warning , 2016).

EEW systems are currently operating in several countries, and others are building them. Since 2006 the USGS has been working to develop EEW for the United States, with the help of several cooperating organizations including “the California Geological Survey (CGS), the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the California Office of Emergency Services, the Moore Foundation, the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Washington, and the University of Oregon” (Earthquake Early Warning , 2016). The goal is to create and operate an EEW system for the highest risk areas of the United States beginning with the West Coast states such as California, Washington, and Oregon.

As the system develops, the warning time will increase. Increasing “the number of sensors will decrease the number of people who would have otherwise gotten no warning at all” (Earthquake Early Warning , 2016). In addition, as the ability to process data and communicate effectively increases, the amount of warning will also increase. Making the system as automated as possible will help increase the warning time as well.


The first limitation is the timing. As of right now, it takes roughly ten seconds to detect the earthquake and send a notification. That that those “closest to the epicenter may not receive a warning at all” (Limitations of the Eathquake Early Warning, 2016). But those outside of about 20 miles from the epicenter will receive a warning of just a few seconds. Those that have “the most warning” may not experience significant shaking by the time the earthquake’s effects actually reach them (Limitations of the Eathquake Early Warning, 2016).

The second limitation is false alarms. When using data from only one seismograph, false Earthquake Early Warnings may occur as a result of noise from accidents, lightning or device failure (Limitations of the Eathquake Early Warning, 2016).


A safer future: Reducing the impacts of natural disasters. (1991). Washington. D.C.: National Academy Press.

Earthquake Early Warning . (2016). Retrieved from USGS: Science of a Changing World:

Limitations of the Eathquake Early Warning. (2016). Japan Meterological Agency, 2-6.

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