Community EEW Launch Workshop
April 17, 2020
Pioneering Research
May 2, 2020

New paper on practical limitations of EEW

A new paper has just been published on Earthquake Spectra. David Wald writes about the practical limitations of earthquake early warning. The paper outlines key points for strategic communication, taking into account EEW limitations and possibilities. Points include depicting expected alert times, setting warning expectations based on context (e.g. subduction zone environments, crustal quakes etc.), educating users on taking appropriate (or inappropriate) action when shaking is felt, communicating EEW is not the only mitigation to earthquake losses, offering broader context of other available earthquake hazard and risk information.

Access the article:

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The abstract of the article:

Earthquake early warning (EEW) entails detection of initial earthquake shaking and rapid estimation and notification to users prior to imminent, stronger shaking. EEW (ShakeAlert Phase 1, version 2.0) went operational in California in October 2019 and is coming to the rest of the U.S. West Coast. But what are the technical and social challenges to delivering actionable information on earthquake shaking before it arrives? Although there will be tangible benefits, there are also limitations. Basic seismological principles, alert communication challenges, and potential response actions, as well as substantial lessons learned from the use of EEW in Japan, point to more limited opportunities to warn and protect than perhaps many expect. This is in part because potential warning times vary by region and are influenced by tectonic environment, hypocentral depth, and the fault’s proximity to the alert user. For the U.S. West Coast, particularly for crustal earthquakes, warning times are shorter—and possible mitigation actions are likely to be less effective—than often maintained. Nevertheless, EEW is an additional arrow in the quiver of earthquake information tools available in the service of earthquake risk reduction. What is called for, then, is transparency and balance in the EEW discussion: along with its potential, the acknowledgment of EEW’s inherent and practical limitations is needed. Recognizing these limitations could, in fact, make EEW implementation more successful as part of a holistic earthquake mitigation strategy, where its role among other earthquake information tools is quite natural.

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