A quick post on some recent earthquake news you may or may not have heard about.
This past week it was predicted that the West Coast of the US would be suffering a major earthquake yesterday, of magnitude 9.7 to be exact. As we all know, seismologists are still not in the business of making predictions to the day of when and where earthquakes will occur, only that something might happen at some point in the future. (And even then, one should not feel reassured. The March, 2011 quake off the coast of Japan was a complete shocker!)
But since people want to be as certain as possible about what’s going to happen “tomorrow”, charlatans abound, taking full advantage of those of us who don’t understand the role of science nor how it really works. In this case, as one might guess, the charlatans in question are of the religious kind, full details here (with an update on the earthquake’s failure to materialize).
So since most seismologists have agreed that searching for the holy grail is in vain (and one of vanity at that), scientists now concentrate their efforts more on how to minimize the damage when an earthquake occurs: whether this be in terms of human lives, damage to infrastructure, or overall financial cost.
Case in point: in playing a bit of catch-up (with Japan and Mexico City), California has recently enacted a law to fund an early-warning alert system to the tune of 80 million dollars following a successful test-run of a demonstration system that has been in place for a few years already (CISN). Essentially, the few extra seconds an alert will provide to allow people to “prepare” themselves for the coming S-Wave can and will make all the difference. Details on this new initiative here.
And in yet another example of the convergence of science and technology, following from a study done at INGV, scientists are now looking to harness the power provided in combining connectedness, coverage density and technology. Did you know? All those rather smart phones we all have in our pockets have an accelerometer built into them. So when an earthquake occurs, those phones near the epicenter can send the strong-motion signal to a central data collection to be acted upon: sending out additional alerts to those who haven’t felt it yet, as well as being able to pin-point exactly where the most severe shaking occurs, thereby alerting civil defense accordingly to achieve maximum benefit. The article was recently published in the journal BSSA and is nicely summarized here.
While the science of accurate earthquake prediction is, predictably, getting nowhere, the science of risk reduction is quite nicely proceeding apace. So the next time your phone vibrates with a message, imagine it’s an early alert of a massive approaching S-Wave: what would you do to protect yourself at that moment?