At First Jolt: Will we have warnings for the next big earthquake?
Richard M. Allen
Geotimes, 53 (10), p52-59, 2008.
Download a reprint: AllenEqWarningEARTH2008.pdf (3.0 Mb)
Before the next earthquake, you might get a warning. Maybe not much of a warning -- perhaps a few seconds or tens of seconds at best. But it might be enough time to crawl under the kitchen table or move away from an office bookcase. A few seconds' warning could allow trains to slow and stop, and the stoplights on the roads could turn red, stopping traffic before a bridge or busy intersection. Nuclear power plants could halt operations while refineries isolate tanks and vulnerable pipelines. By combining modern digital seismic networks with modern communication systems, scientists are trying to create an earthquake early warning that comes before you are knocked off your feet and your world turns upside down.
Earthquake early warning is not earthquake prediction. The intent is
not to predict when and where an earthquake will occur. In fact, earth-
quake prediction is not something that most earth scientists think will
be possible in the foreseeable future. Rather, earthquake early warning
involves rapid detection of the beginnings of an earthquake, assessment
of the likely shaking and then subsequent warnings to those in harm's