Practical limitations of Earthquake Early Warning

Earthquake Spectra
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Abstract

Earthquake Early Earning (EEW) entails detection of initial earthquake shaking and rapid estimation and notification to users prior to imminent, stronger shaking. EEW is coming to 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 less impressive—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 acknowledgement 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.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Practical limitations of Earthquake Early Warning
Series title Earthquake Spectra
DOI 10.1177/8755293020911388
Volume 36
Issue 3
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher SAGE
Contributing office(s) Geologic Hazards Science Center
Description 36 p.
First page 1412
Last page 1447
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