Would an earthquake early warning system work for New Zealand?

In other countries, early warning systems are starting to come into use

Would an earthquake early warning system work for New Zealand?

Insurance News

By Krizzel Canlas

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) is providing $61,000 in funding to a team of researchers asking how New Zealanders would use earthquake early warning systems.

“Earthquake scientists on our team tell us that with New Zealand’s geography and location of faults, the maximum warning would be more like a minute here,” research team leader Dr. Julia Becker said. “If you were nearer the epicentre, however, you might not get a warning, or it might only be a matter of seconds.”

According to Becker, a social scientist at GNS Science, Japan, Mexico and parts of the USA have systems that give people seconds or even up to a two-minute warning that a large earthquake is about to hit.

“Other countries started with installing the technology and then seeing how it was used,” she said. “What we’re looking at is how it’s likely to be used by New Zealanders before anything is planned. This will help define what kind of investment could be most useful.”

Becker said that the research is taking a social science view on early warnings. However, an earthquake early warning system is expensive; and in New Zealand, it would take many more seismographs and improvements to the current data transmission and analysis system to be effective, she noted. 

The research team brings together earthquake scientists, engineers, statisticians, modellers and social scientists to get a full picture.

“One of the main things we want to find out is how people would use the time given by a warning system to make themselves and others safer,” Becker said.

“For instance, in Japan, warnings for large earthquakes are automatically texted out and used immediately by train drivers to slow the trains down, for surgeons to make a patient safe during an operation and for the general public to take safety steps.

“Here we’ll be looking at how it might be used for hospitals, rail and road transport, manufacturing and the general public. We’ll also be looking at what the most effective channels for sending out warnings would be.”

Separate studies on the economic and engineering aspects would also be needed before any serious consideration is given to such a system. Still, EQC general manager resilience Dr. Hugh Cowan said there is a lot of interest. 

“What this research will indicate are the possible social economic and social benefits, and what might be worth further consideration for New Zealand conditions and use,” he said.

Becker said the study is expected to take around two years to finish.

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