Natural hazard warningNew technologies combined to warn of natural hazard threats

Published 7 January 2014

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have enhanced existing GPS technologies to develop new systems for California and elsewhere to warn of natural hazard threats from earthquakes, tsunamis, and extreme weather events. The system uses real-time information from GPS stations upgraded with small, inexpensive seismic and meteorological sensors. The technology also is being integrated into other real-world applications. One example is assessing damage to hospitals, bridges, and other critical infrastructure that can be used in real time by emergency personnel, decision makers, and first responders to help mitigate threats to public safety.

Scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have enhanced existing GPS technologies to develop new systems for California and elsewhere to warn of natural hazard threats from earthquakes, tsunamis, and extreme weather events.

The technology was demonstrated in July by forecasters at NOAA National Weather Service offices in Oxnard, California, and San Diego, who used it to track a summer monsoon rain event affecting Southern California and issue more accurate and timely flash flood warnings.

The system uses real-time information from GPS stations upgraded with small, inexpensive seismic and meteorological sensors.

An AGU Fall Meeting release reports that the technology also is being integrated into other real-world applications. One example is assessing damage to hospitals, bridges, and other critical infrastructure that can be used in real time by emergency personnel, decision makers, and first responders to help mitigate threats to public safety.

For hospitals, the primary goal is to shut down elevators automatically and send alerts to operating room personnel, for example, when an earthquake early warning is received. The early warning system is particularly effective during large earthquakes, when existing seismic methods have difficulty determining a rapid and accurate estimate of magnitude.

For bridges, the system may detect changes to their structure due to earthquakes, wind shear, and traffic loads. At a media briefing at the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco last month, scientists from JPL, Scripps, and NOAA’s National Weather Service in Oxnard discussed the technology and its current and potential applications.

“These advancements in monitoring are being applied to public safety threats, from tall buildings and bridges to hospitals in regions of risk for natural hazards,” said Yehuda Bock of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California. “Meaningful warnings can save lives when issued within one to two minutes of a destructive earthquake, several tens of minutes for tsunamis, possibly an hour or more for flash floods, and several days or more for extreme winter storms.”

The technology is based on an optimal combination of GPS, accelerometer, pressure, and temperature data, collected in real time at many locations throughout Southern California and on large engineered structures, such as tall buildings, hospitals, and bridges for focused studies of health and damage.

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