Hurricanes and tornadoes. They’re two of the most terrifying natural disasters, but, as those who fear earthquakes will tell you: at least they have early warning systems. A recent survey from Sperling’s Best Places “found 21.1 percent of those polled said they’re most fearful of earthquakes, with tornadoes coming in second place at 17.6 percent. Wildfires, hurricanes, flooding and droughts were also among the six types of natural disasters most feared by the 1,100 people surveyed,” said Weather.com.
In a release about the findings, Sperling’s Best Places said, “Earthquakes worry us for a number of reasons, thanks to their violent nature and the psychological terror of the earth moving beneath our feet. They strike quickly and without warning. Storms, on the other hand, are tracked by meteorologists and can be prepared for or avoided by evacuation.”
Those who have avoided Los Angeles for fear of an impending earthquake—or simply lived with the fear of overstressed faults and grinding tectonic plates—may be able to make those plans to move, or breathe a little easier from their So Cal home.
“Los Angeles has unveiled its long-anticipated earthquake early warning app for Android and Apple smartphones, which is now available for download,” said the Los Angeles Times. “ShakeAlertLA, an app created under the oversight of Mayor Eric Garcetti and the city, is designed to work with the U.S. Geological Survey’s earthquake early warning system, which has been under development for years. It’s designed to give users seconds—perhaps even tens of seconds—before shaking from a distant earthquake arrives at a user’s location.”
According to the app, a 5.0 or greater earthquake in Los Angeles County triggers an early warning, “often before you feel shaking,” that is sent out to smartphones. These “precious seconds” are critical, said Garcetti, allowing people to “stop elevators, to pull to the side of the road, to drop, cover and hold on.”
ShakeAlert makes Los Angeles the first city in the country with a public early warning system; more widespread use across California is in the works through Early Warning Labs, a Santa Monica-based company developing an app called QuakeAlert. In addition, “Hunter Owens, the city’s data scientist, noted on Twitter that the app’s code has been made open-source for other cities or states to use,” said Curbed.
“For more than a decade, the USGS has worked with a group of universities and research institutions to secure funding and build out the sensor network for the ShakeAlert program, which distributes the seismic data to the City of L.A.’s app. The initial goal of the ShakeAlert system was to create an early warning system for the entire West Coast, but federal dollars to pay for development were repeatedly zeroed out during budgeting,”
The L.A. Times notes that, while not perfect, early warning systems “helped prevent deadly derailments of high-speed trains in Japan before shaking arrived from the magnitude 9.1 earthquake of 2011, for instance, signaling the trains to slow down. Memorably, the national Japanese broadcaster NHK aired an earthquake warning about 90 seconds before the strongest shaking arrived in Tokyo. Warnings that buzzed in classrooms gave some students enough time to shelter.”
According to one study, people in the epicenter of the Japan quake had a 15- to 20-second head start to find safety before the heaviest shaking occurred.