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Earthquake early warning predicts shaking in CA quake

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
March 25th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

For the first time in California history, some Californians got an early warning before an earthquake. Although the quake was not technically predicted, an early warning system gave engineers and seismologists and 30 second warning that the ground was about to tremble.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - On Monday, March 11, a 4.7 quake struck near Anza, California. Hard-working Californinos got a morning shakeup, but it was really nothing of significance for most, who are accustomed to periodic quakes.

However, for a small group of people testing an early warning system for quakes, it was a big deal. The system provided seismologists at CalTech in Pasadena with 30 second of warning before the shaking could be felt.

The early warning system can't predict earthquakes, but can detect earthquakes as they start and before their seismic waves can be felt by humans. Depending on a number of factors, the system can provide people with anywhere from 10 to sixty seconds of warning before the real shaking starts.

The system has been in place for about a year and seismologists have been waiting to see if it would work in real life.

It did.

The system was even able to predict with accuracy when the shaking would be felt in Pasadena. A countdown flashed on computer screens at CalTech letting seismologists watch, and save their coffee mugs, as the seconds to shaking fell away.

The shaking started right on time.

The space of 10 to sixty seconds may not seem like much time for a warning, but when dealing with earthquakes it's enough to duck and cover under a sturdy object or to get yourself away from brickwork or glass, which is responsible for many injuries during a quake. It can even provide enough time for trains to slow down, and possibly stop, saving the passengers and cargo aboard from harm.

There remains some work done to perfect the system. Despite its accuracy, the system initially overestimated the quake, saying it was a 5.2 instead of a 4.7. This is a substantial difference.

Still, the system provided the same accurate warning that it would provide if the quake had been many times larger.

This practical test proves the system works and if funding is approved, it may become a statewide project with sensors distributed across the quake-prone region. Similar programs have already been deployed in Mexico and Japan. The system in Japan gave some 50 million residents an accurate warning before the massive 2011, 9.0 quake which resulted in a powerful tsunami.

Soon, Californians may enjoy a similar level of protection against dangerous quakes.

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