Recent years earthquake strikes within the borders of the US has increased dramatically and pose a significant danger to approximately 143 million Americans. In addition to the dangerous impact on human life, earthquakes also affect the economy of government. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, earthquakes in America caused average $6.1 billion and 73% percent of loss is coming from Washington, California, Oregon, and 61% only from California. Additionally, the most vulnerable places to earthquakes consist of most crowded areas like Los Angeles. It is not possible to stop earthquakes from happening, yet the government focuses on finding solutions to decrease the destructive impacts of earthquakes. One of these solutions is the USGS earthquake warning system. With the help of USGS earthquake warning system citizens, engineers get earthquake warning signs such as estimated magnitude, location, duration, etc.

The system is designed to alert people before the earthquake strike and allow them to take action immediately.

USGS earthquake warning

USGS (United State Geological Survey) estimates that each year several millions of earthquakes with different magnitude strike around the world and reason for most of them is unknown. Approximately 50 earthquakes happen each day, and 20.000 happen each year. To understand the nature of earthquakes and prevent their destructions USGS has launched its Earthquake Hazards Program. The primary purpose of the program is to gain accurate and timely information about earthquakes and decrease its deaths, injuries, economic damages that are caused by them. The program was launched as a part of the Natural Hazards Mission Area program.

USGS earthquake warning system is part of the Earthquake Hazards Program and is designed to provide earthquake warning signs especially for Washington, California, Oregon, and other high-risk areas. USGS has started working on the early warning systems since 2006, and today one of the main goals of USGS is to expand the warning system during 2019 and make it public warning system for the earthquakes.


About the early warning systems


Early earthquake warning systems get data from monitoring systems to make sure that devices and people are notified before earthquake strikes. The system helps people protect their life and property by getting earthquake warning signs about expected earthquakes. These early warnings protect people from possible injuries and other destructive results such as:


  • In Business: employers make sure that employees will be moved to the safe place and equipment will be placed in a safe mode.
  • In the Medical field: all surgeons, dentists, and other doctors will be notified to stop ongoing procedures.
  • In public: all schoolchildren and other citizens will be safe.
  • Power stations: all of them will be protected against strong earthquake strikes.
  • Emergency Situations: preparation of employees to early warnings, open firehouse doors


These systems are quite developed and available in several countries including Turkey, Japan, Italy, Taiwan, Mexico, Romania, and China, yet other countries in the stage of development of their warning system. Each country developed an earthquake warning system based on its local faults, and each system varies according to the country. Japan has been using early warning systems for more than 10 years.

Recently, the USGS also has started working on the similar warning systems since 2006 with the help of the different organizations including CGS (California Geological Survey), Caltech (California Institute of Technology), the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Washington, the Moore Foundation, the California Office of Emergency Services, and the University of Oregon. The initial goal is to provide the most vulnerable places to earthquakes like California, Oregon, and Washington with the early warning systems.  



Required time to detect the earthquake


One of the significant problems to solve here is to manage to adjust early notification time so that people could have enough time to take action for protecting themselves. The notification time before the happening of an earthquake depends on several factors:


  • Initially, it depends on the distance between the source of the quake and nearest seismic network station to that earthquake. For seismic waves to travel and reach the network station takes time; therefore as the closer the source of the earthquake to the station the less time it will take to be notified about the quake.


  • The second important factor here is to transfer the earthquake waves to the local network station. Local stations collect data from other stations and analyze them. Therefore data must be transferred in a minimal amount of time to notify people in advance before an earthquake happens.


  • Another crucial factor here is about the detection of the earthquake. Transferred wave records are used to detect and characterize the earthquake which includes the exact location and magnitude of the quake. For that purpose different advanced algorithms are developed to estimate the earthquake exactly before it happens.


What is Next?

USGS earthquake warning

The most crucial part of the USGS earthquake warning system is having dense seismic network stations and secure communication between them. Therefore, the government pays much attention to the installation of seismic stations and improving communication between them. Comparing to station density of Japan stations the U.S has to increase the amount of them within the region. As mentioned above different complex algorithms are developed to predict earthquakes before they happen and it is planned to add additional ground motion observation methodologies to that. Data from that methodologies will probably reduce the early warning time and help to predict the magnitude and location of an earthquake accurately. Some of these methodologies include low-cost sensors that will be located in the schools, houses, and buildings, and real-time GPS network.


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