CWU News

CWU to Play Significant Role in Earthquake Early Warning System

A warning system that provides valuable seconds to “drop, cover, and hold on”* in case of an earthquake, will make soon make its debut in the western United States. The earthquake early warning (EEW) system is based on seismic and GPS measurements, and detects and measures earthquakes fast enough that warning can be given before the strongest shaking arrives, providing seconds or even minutes to prepare for the disaster.

“Even a little bit of warning can help people avoid serious injury,” said Tim Melbourne, director of the Cascadia Hazards Institute and Central Washington University professor of geological sciences. “It’s also a heads-up for first responders and emergency centers.”

Melbourne will speak about the EEW and what it means for Washington citizens at 7:00 p.m. on January 13 at Hebeler Hall Auditorium at Central Washington University.

CWU will play a significant role as the GPS analysis center for the EEW, with its vast network of real-time GPS receivers and analysis systems.

Earthquake early warning is being implemented in many locations around the world. When the 2011 Tohuku Earthquake struck, it was recognized as serious within 30 seconds of its initiation offshore. Tokyo residents then had approximately 30 seconds warning before the approaching strong ground motion—enough time for individuals to get to a safe place. In addition, cell phone alarms warned millions of people in advance of large aftershocks.

“Aftershocks can cause even more damage and injury than the original earthquake,” commented Melbourne. “Being able to anticipate when and where and how severe the aftershocks are going to be will not only save civilian lives, but also protect firefighters and other emergency personnel.”

On the west coast of the United States, with United States Geological Survey funding, the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the University of California, Berkeley have developed and are testing an early prototype EEW system in California. In November 2012, the Moore Foundation awarded grants to Caltech, UC Berkeley, and the University of Washington to develop and begin testing this prototype system. The USGS is coordinating these activities.

*”Drop, cover, and hold on” are the appropriate actions to reduce injury and death during earthquakes, according to federal, state, and local emergency management experts.

Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518,