Media Advisory: West Coast seismologists to urge earthquake early warning system

ATTENTION: Editors and assignment desks, science reporters



A media briefing at the University of California, Berkeley, by leading West Coast seismologists who will discuss their recommendations for establishing an earthquake early warning system in California, Oregon and Washington.

The recommendations will conclude a day-and-a-half-long, closed-door summit involving leading seismologists as well as representatives from the utilities and industries that would benefit from a few seconds’ to a few minutes’ warning before the ground begins to shake from a distant earthquake. The seismologists will present arguments that the technology is now mature enough to create a system in the United States similar to that in Japan, and that it would save lives and speed recovery from a large earthquake.



2 p.m. TOMORROW, Tuesday, April 5, 2011



Room 250, Sutardja Dai Hall, UC Berkeley, near the intersection of Hearst and LeRoy avenues (see campus map). The briefing will be webcast live at mms://

Media who wish to ask questions can use a teleconferencing line, 1-866-740-1260, access code 6433146#.


  • Richard Allen, associate director of the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and associate professor of earth and planetary sciences
  • John Vidale, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and professor of earth and space sciences at the University of Washington, Seattle
  • Thomas Heaton, director of the Earthquake Engineering Research Laboratory and professor of geophysics and of civil engineering at the California Institute of Technology
  • Doug Given, earthquake early warning coordinator at the U.S. Geological Survey

A representative from the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) district also will attend the briefing.



Earthquake scientists from Washington, Oregon and California are meeting today and tomorrow, April 4 -5, to discuss the feasibility of establishing an earthquake early warning system for the West Coast similar to the one that gave a valuable heads-up in the recent giant quake in Japan. Such a system would place seismic monitors in a dense arrangement in fault zones and could begin sending warnings of impending ground-shaking within five seconds after an earthquake is detected by the nearest seismometer.

“Japan’s earthquake early warning system undoubtedly saved thousands of lives, and will reduce the long-term impact of the earthquake on the economy,” said Allen, who has been working for nearly a decade to develop and test an earthquake early warning system in the United States. “A similar system in California could provide as much as a minute warning – and in Washington, as much as two-to-three minutes’ warning – so that some actions, many of them automated, can be taken before the destructive waves arrive.”

Even a warning of 30 seconds could be enough for a doctor to halt surgery, a factory to shut down sensitive equipment, for a train to stop before it reaches a vulnerable bridge or prevent airplanes from landing or taking off. That could save many lives and potentially prevent millions of dollars in damage, Allen said.

The UC Berkeley meeting was arranged by Allen, Heaton and Vidale to explore how such a system would work, what it could accomplish and how much it might cost. Allen estimates that a robust early warning system could be operating within five years in California. A simpler system could be put into operation even sooner.