October 29, 2018
Earlier this month, a demonstration earthquake early warning system debuted in Los Angeles. This system aims to provide audible announcements to the public before an earthquake strikes, providing critical warning to residents so they can protect themselves before the shaking begins. Seconds to minutes of advance warning would allow people to pull to the side of the road, stop an elevator, or open access gates before power is cut off due to an earthquake event.
This early warning system will rely on strong wireless connections to transmit messages quickly to residents via their cell phones. As shared in a Los Angeles Times article about the demonstration, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti indicated that some residents could have access to an app providing early warning on their smartphones within months.
An app called ShakeAlertLA — developed by AT&T — will be made available for tens of thousands of city employees to begin testing on their cellphones in the coming months. Santa Monica-based Early Warning Labs also is seeking permission from the USGS to begin testing its warning app with as many as 100,000 people. A broader ShakeAlert program designed to cover California, Oregon and Washington has been under development for several years.
A major challenge in developing an effective early warning system is wireless network speed. A recent National Wireless Emergency Alert System test showed an average delay of 22 seconds in users receiving a text message. This will change as the 5G technology and wireless network is rolled out, but we need local governments to work with wireless carriers and wireless infrastructure companies to ensure that small cells are deployed to increase wireless capacity to support these important public safety improvements.
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