Friday, September 27, 2013

This is not a Test...

Tech, people, ideas, disasters...when you clear away all the buzz words, jargon, and platitudes, it's time to see what is actually being done to utilize available tech for the betterment of society. The Social Good Summit brought a lot of ideas to light, and highlighted some of the good work being done by leveraging technology; however, outside of the fight against Malaria, concrete examples of tech in action were few and far between. So when I opened the paper upon my return to Southern California I was surprised to read that Governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill appropriating roughly $80 million towards the implementation of an earthquake early warning system.

Photo taken from
 The installation of this early warning detection system will be a series of sensor arrays that will build upon the existing infrastructure setup by CISN or the California Integrated Seismic Network in Southern CA. Given the looming threat earthquakes pose to the communities in Southern California it's surprising that it's taken this long to put something like this into action. Japan, Mexico, Taiwan, Turkey, Italy, Romania, and China are all countries that have an early warning system in place to detect seismic activity, and while there are no immediate plans to expand this system, it's something the entire West Coast would no doubt benefit from.

Simple explanation
Upon first reading articles stating that $80 Million would be allocated to this project I didn't really see the upside given that Earthquakes define the sudden onset disaster paradigm. So how much of a notice would an "early" warning system give? It turns out that it has the potential to give enough time (in some scenarios close to 60 seconds) to do a lot of good: stop trains, warn people, and help to get them into the right frame of mind to deal with and persevere through a major earthquake event. With the ability to connect with smart phones, highway signage, and through traditional means on TV and radio, the potential of connecting with a large segment of the population is quite high.

In Japan, prior to the the March 2011 9.0 that struck off their coast, mass texts were sent and warnings were automatically broadcast on television and radio, according to some sources, 80 precious seconds of warning were given. That warning coupled with the consistent building standards helped to ameliorate what could've been a significant loss of life and property.

And while this system will no doubt have a positive impact and help save the lives of many when the big one does hit, one has to wonder how vulnerable a system like that is? What happens when something like that misfires? While certainly a false alarm is better than having it preempt a massive earthquake, I'm thinking more along the lines of the probable mental impacts that would be linked to a false alarm.

And while there are potential risks with any new technology, the early warning system has the potential to give people the opportunity to put themselves into a better situation with the time they're given...the only thing left is ensuring that a well-informed public knows what to do with the time they're given.

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