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Will the U.S. Embrace Earthquake Early Warning Systems?



The Hayward Fault
To give residents extra time to take cover during earthquakes, such as those along the main Hayward, Calif., Fault, pictured here, California researchers are developing an early earthquake warning system -- something experts believe could greatly benefit eastern states.

July 9, 2013 By

In the minutes before a deadly tornado struck Moore, Okla., earlier this year, sirens wailed, warning of the imminent threat. That advance notice that gave residents extra time to take cover, and may have been the difference between life and death.

But early-warning technology isn’t restricted to tornadoes. California researchers are developing a similar system for earthquakes. While the technology makes sense to deploy in seismically active regions in the West, experts believe the system could be an even more important priority for the eastern states.

Unlike the West Coast -- which has many fault lines that break up the Earth’s crust and stunt how the quake’s energy is transmitted -- the East Coast is made up of harder, less active and colder ground, which enables energy waves released by earthquakes to travel further.

For example, the 5.8-magnitude earthquake that struck Virginia on Aug. 23, 2011, was average in its intensity, but its impact was felt by more than 37 million people from Boston to South Carolina.

With its dense population centers and older structures, the Eastern seaboard could suffer catastrophic destruction from a stronger tremor. An early warning, though, could give residents a critical 30- to 90-second heads-up to prepare.


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