Future Earth: Reducing Loss By Automating Response to Earthquake Shaking

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 2:40 PM
Richard M Allen, UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, Berkeley, CA, United States
Earthquakes pose a significant threat to society in the U.S. and around the world. The risk is easily forgotten given the infrequent recurrence of major damaging events, yet the likelihood of a major earthquake in California in the next 30 years is greater than 99%. As our societal infrastructure becomes ever more interconnected, the potential impacts of these future events are difficult to predict.

Yet, the same inter-connected infrastructure also allows us to rapidly detect earthquakes as they begin, and provide seconds, tens or seconds, or a few minutes warning. A demonstration earthquake early warning system is now operating in California and is being expanded to the west coast (www.ShakeAlert.org). In recent earthquakes in the Los Angeles region, alerts were generated that could have provided warning to the vast majority of Los Angelinos who experienced the shaking. Efforts are underway to build a public system. Smartphone technology will be used not only to issue that alerts, but could also be used to collect data, and improve the warnings. The MyShake project at UC Berkeley is currently testing an app that attempts to turn millions of smartphones into earthquake-detectors. As our development of the technology continues, we can anticipate ever-more automated response to earthquake alerts. Already, the BART system in the San Francisco Bay Area automatically stops trains based on the alerts. In the future, elevators will stop, machinery will pause, hazardous materials will be isolated, and self-driving cars will pull-over to the side of the road.

In this presentation we will review the current status of the earthquake early warning system in the US. We will illustrate how smartphones can contribute to the system. Finally, we will review applications of the information to reduce future losses.