• Seismic warnings“Majority rules” when looking for earthquakes, explosions

    Finding the ideal settings for each sensor in a network to detect vibrations in the ground, or seismic activity, can be a painstaking and manual process. Researchers at Sandia are working to change that by using software that automatically adjusts the seismic activity detection levels for each sensor. The new software reduces false, missed detections of seismic activity.

  • BiothreatsWinners announced in $300K biothreat prize competition

    DHS S&T the other day announced the grand prize winner of its $300,000 Hidden Signals Challenge. The prize competition called for the design of an early warning system to keep communities safe by using existing data sources to uncover emerging biothreats.

  • CybersecurityMobile security messages 20 percent more effective if warnings vary in appearance

    Using brain data, eye-tracking data and field-study data, researchers have confirmed something about our interaction with security warnings on computers and phones: the more we see them, the more we tune them out. But the major study also finds that slight changes to the appearance of warnings help users pay attention to and adhere to warnings 20 percent more of the time.

  • Sesimic early warningSeismic early warning could save lives in Nepal’s next Big One

    Just before noon on 25 April 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake that maxed out the seismic intensity scale shook the entire nation of Nepal. Originating about 100 km northwest of the capital city of Kathmandu, this earthquake along with a magnitude 7.1 aftershock on 12 May killed nearly 9,000 people and injured nearly 22,000 more while damaging or destroying more than 600,000 structures. Scientists say that if sensors had been near the epicenter of the 2015 earthquake, they could have detected it up to 80 seconds before it reached Kathmandu. Even factoring in the time it would take to corroborate the signal with other sensors and transmit a warning to everyone’s cell phones—which are just as abundant in Nepal as they are in America—people could have gotten more than a minute warning.

  • Seismic early warningFederal funding moves ShakeAlert closer to reality

    A recent boost in federal funding will move the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system closer to completion. The omnibus spending package allocates $12.9 million for continued development and limited public rollout of the system. It also appropriates $10 million for capital costs to add more earthquake sensors and improve system infrastructure.

  • Earthquake early warningSafety potential, limits of earthquake early warning systems

    In a new study, scientists calculate possible alert times that earthquake early warning systems can provide people at different levels of ground motion from light to very strong shaking. Results of scientific studies such as this can be used to design alerting strategies for earthquake early warning systems such as USGS’ ShakeAlert.

  • Alarms & alertsLessons from a false-alarm

    On 13 January, by contrast, residents and visitors in Hawaii were alerted to an impending missile attack for which they had perhaps twenty minutes to take action. After thirty-eight minutes, they were told the alert was a false alarm, triggered by an emergency worker’s mistake. “We know a lot about what people do in terms of a hurricane, how they make decisions on such things as whether to evacuate, but this incident in Hawaii was different,” said an expert who went to Hawaii to study how people reacted to the alert. While many residents and tourists reported being frightened during the incident, the most common reaction was confusion during the alert and frustration after learning that it had been issued in error.

  • Seismic early warningsChilean great quakes show efficacy of satellite-based earthquake early warning system

    Researchers testing a satellite-based earthquake early warning system developed for the U.S. West Coast found that the system performed well in a “replay” of three large earthquakes that occurred in Chile between 2010 and 2015. Their results suggest that such a system could provide early warnings of ground shaking and tsunamis for Chile’s coastal communities in the future.

  • Missile launch alertsLawmakers want to give the federal government the sole responsibility for missile alerts

    Following the false emergency alert that went out across Hawai‘i on 13 January and caused widespread panic, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), Kamala Harris (D-California), and Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) introduced the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act, legislation that would improve the emergency alert system and give the federal government the sole responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat, prohibiting state and local governments from doing so.

  • Seismic early warningMexico’s September 2017 tremor highlights successes of seismic early warning system

    Mexico’s earthquake early warning system gave Mexico City’s residents almost two minutes of warning prior to the arrival of strong seismic waves from the 7 September 2017 Tehuantepec earthquake centered off the southern coast of Mexico, according to a new study. The magnitude 8.2 earthquake is the largest earthquake detected by the alert system, known as SASMEX, since it began operations in 1993. SASMEX also sent an alert for the magnitude 7.1 Morelos earthquake that occurred on 19 September. The alerts highlighted how some recent improvements to the system may help decrease the time needed to receive, detect and broadcast the alerts, but they also point to places where the system can improve in the future.

  • FloodsNew study examines the causes and consequences of the 2015 Texas floods

    The Memorial Day 2015 Wimberley, Texas flood along the Blanco River destroyed 350 homes and claimed 13 lives. The Texas Hill Country, where Wimberly is located, is known as “Flash Flood Alley” because it leads North America as the most flash-flood prone region. In the past five years, Flash Flood Alley has seen two “500-year storms” and one “300-year storm.” Researchers call for better storm preparations in light of this revelation, to allow for blocking roads and evacuation of residents.

  • EarthquakeCalifornia’s other drought: A major earthquake is overdue

    By Richard Aster

    California earthquakes are a geologic inevitability. The earthquake situation in California is actually more dire than people who aren’t seismologists like myself may realize. The good news is that earthquake readiness is part of the state’s culture, and earthquake science is advancing – including much improved simulations of large quake effects and development of an early warning system for the Pacific coast. Early warning systems are operational now in Japan, Taiwan, Mexico and Romania. Systems in California and the Pacific Northwest are presently under development with early versions in operation. Earthquake early warning is by no means a panacea for saving lives and property, but it represents a significant step toward improving earthquake safety and awareness along the West Coast. Managing earthquake risk requires a resilient system of social awareness, education and communications, coupled with effective short- and long-term responses and implemented within an optimally safe built environment. As California prepares for large earthquakes after a hiatus of more than a century, the clock is ticking.

  • Disaster early warningVirgin Islands re-establishes disaster early warning system

    The cabinet of the Virgin Islands has approved the expenditure of $442,000 to re-establish the National Early Warning System. Some of the networks were established as far back as 1979 and have been used to provide immediate warning and notification to persons throughout the territory. As a result of the National Early Warning Program, the Islands’ Department of Disaster Management (DDM) was able to apply for and receive Tsunami Ready Recognition in 2014 and this was renewed in June 2017.

  • Seismic early warningLearning from Mexico's earthquake early warning system

    In the company of only Japan and Taiwan, Mexico is one of few countries equipped with a seismic warning system that currently broadcasts publicly. Mexico has been broadcasting in a public regional capacity since 1993 via the Mexico Seismic Warning System, which currently has more than 90 sensors in central and southern Mexico. Although no one can reliably predict earthquakes, today’s technology is now advanced enough to rapidly detect seismic waves as an earthquake begins and send alerts to surrounding areas before damaging shaking arrives.

  • Emergency alertsHawaii’s missile alert gaffe: why good human-machine design is critical

    By Siraj Ahmed Shaikh

    It’s an unfortunate reality that we need to prepare for national emergencies due to war or natural disasters. Civil defense organizations, set up to coordinate and respond to such emergencies, are an important part of any modern state. Such entities play a critical role in terms of triggering alerts, coordinating response across law enforcement and emergency services, disseminating information and aiding response efforts to minimize impact and restore order. Clearly, they are important systems for alerting nations to risks when disaster strikes. But such systems can go wrong. Our interaction with technology is becoming more and more complex. Early warning systems are very welcome, but the Hawaii mishap serves as an opportunity for a radical redesign, with a better understanding of their impact on the population. At a time when the world is increasingly uncertain and our dependence on technology is so high, a redesign of poor warning systems is critical.