The White House Earthquake Resilience Summit held on February 2, 2016 focused on the imminent need for a comprehensive Earthquake Early Warning system such as ShakeAlert, to be quickly and inclusively adopted. Nowhere is this need more urgent than along the Pacific Northwest and California coastline, where the threat of a mega-thrust earthquake and devastating tsunami is very real.
The Summit heard from panelists with deep expertise in geophysics, mass transportation, construction infrastructure, emergency management, disaster recovery and, alert dissemination. John Lawson of Convergence Services created a buzz in the room about AWARN and broadcast based alerting, when on a panel examining next-generation warning systems.
Many federal agencies were represented including; the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP); the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the U.S Geological Survey (USGS); the National Security Council; U.S Dept. of Homeland Security; the National Weather Service/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NWS/NOAA) and the Department of the Interior.
Senator Jeff Merkley D-OR and U.S. Representatives Peter DeFazio, D-OR (pictured above); Adam Schiff, D-CA and; Derek Kimer D-WA, all spoke of the need for an earthquake early warning system and how their own districts, states and constituents would be significantly impacted by an earthquake or tsunami. Rep. Kilmer noted that his entire district would be under water if the ‘really big’ earthquake hit in the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
Congress recently appropriated $8 million for continued development of the earthquake early warning system, with additional private investment coming from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (a total of $10 million since 2011 from the foundation). It was estimated that $16 million is require each year to fully launch and operate the system, with additional funds needed for education across the region and beyond.
Dr. Richard Allen, Director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory explained that early warning of an imminent earthquake is based on the difference in speed at which the waves of an earthquake travel out from the point of origin along a fault line. Measurement of waves can provide warning times of a few seconds up to almost one minute, depending on the distance of the alert-receiver from the epicenter of the quake.
Dr. Allen noted that 50% of the injuries resulting from an earthquake are linked to falling objects. In the 1994 Northridge earthquake, injuries resulting from falling objects totaled almost $3 billion in costs. This earthquake resulted in 57 deaths and more than 8,700 people injured.
The experts who spoke at the event all seemed to agree that early warning alerts should be disseminated by as many means possible, including but not limited to: cellphone, television, radio, home security devices, public address systems, road side signage and the Internet.
John McPartland, Director of Bay Area Rapid Transit spoke of how early warning systems already in place have the ability to reduce the speed of trains throughout their network from 70 mph down to 10mph within 20 seconds. Train derailment can be a major factor for loss of life in the event of an earthquake. The magnitude of the quake combined with the speed of the train determines how impactful a derailment can be. Automatic reduction of the speed of the train significantly reduces the likelihood of derailment, reducing the impact on loss of life.
Dr. Lucy Jones of USGS (pictured) said, “Loss of economic future dwarfs the physical loss occurring at the time of an earthquake event.” She stated that an area affected by an earthquake would lose significantly more people from migration after the event than from loss of life during the event. Net migration loss would potentially lead to substantial economic loss for the region, not just in the short term, but also for future generations.
Next-Generation Warnings was the title of the last panel of the day. The panel referenced the life-saving technology of 1SEG – a version of mobile digital television – that was in use in Japan during their 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Vast consumer adoption of 1SEG ensured that almost 80% of Japan’s population had the ability to receive over-the-air broadcast television on their mobile devices. Live footage gave people throughout the country real time images of the catastrophe enveloping their Eastern coast.
Also discussed was Indonesia’s use of a Twitter-based application called Peta Jakarta to crowd-source flooding information.
John Lawson (pictured above right) spoke of U.S. broadcasters’ ability to send alerts via radio and television and how the next-generation television broadcast standard ATSC 3.0, will facilitate a robust new capacity to alert the public. He spoke of how AWARN will have invaluable applications before, during and after an emergency, with the ability to transmit rich media including photos, videos, evacuation routes and shelter locations to in-home televisions and mobile devices. Lawson applauded the broadcast and wireless industries for the activation of FM chips in cellphones, echoing the other members of the panel on the reliability of radio for vital communications.
The summit highlighted major progress has been made but much more still needs to be done to put in place procedures and prevention methods to minimize the impact of ‘the really big one.’
The video of the summit can be viewed here.