We have been told many times earthquakes are non-predictable phenomena, but also earthquake early warning systems have been a trending topic in the last years. So does that mean we are actually capable of predicting the unpredictable? How counter-intuitive could this be?

These kinds of systems may seem to come from the latest technological advances. Still, we have to remember that they have been in place in earthquake-prone countries like Mexico and Japan since 1994 and 2007, respectively, and they have been improved since then. At this moment, our main concern is to understand how these systems work and take advantage of what they offer to us. 

According to seismologist Richard Allen, director of the Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley, we cannot predict when an earthquake will occur. That means we are not capable of knowing when rocks in a fault slip past each other, but we are capable of predicting the shaking that comes from when the earthquake ruptures. So basically, that which occurs when an earthquake has already started.

We have to take into consideration that an earthquake is not an instantaneous event: after the rupture occurs, the energy that radiates out is what causes the shaking that people feel.

P waves come first, and our instruments can detect that. S waves come next, and they carry most of the energy and do most of the damage. The experts and the proper equipment can estimate how strong the shaking that’s carried by the S waves will be, and that’s the basis for the early warning,” states the seismologist.

The time required to detect and issue a warning for an earthquake depends on several factors, one of them is the distance between the earthquake source and the closest seismic network seismometer (station). “In generalan earthquake early warning system on the west coast of the United States could provide up to tens of seconds of warning prior to shaking arriving.” 

These valuable seconds will allow you to take action to protect your life from destructive shaking. We will be able to make most of this if we are well informed about what safety protocols recommend to do before and during an earthquake.

Technology gives us amazing possibilities and ways to protect ourselves, but those have to be complemented with a solid prevention culture. SkyAlert brings you all the information you need to know to educate yourself and be prepared in case of an earthquake hit your city. 

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Halton, M. (2018). Are earthquake warnings effective?. Retrieved 12 February 2020.

Lee, J. (2013). How Do Earthquake Early Warning Systems Work?. Retrieved 12 February 2020.

ShakeAlert. (2020). Retrieved 12 February 2020.

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