Time for an Early Warning System | The Jackal

8 Jul 2011

Time for an Early Warning System

Yesterday, it took GeoNet over two hours before they even registered a 7.6 Magnitude earthquake on their website.

The powerful earthquake hit off the Kermadec Islands at 7.03am NZT at a depth of 48.5km.

Some paid services duly gave the appropriate warning, but GeoNet states on their website:
It can take between fifteen and thirty minutes after a significant earthquake for the location and magnitude to be reviewed and the event to be listed on this web site.
Even fifteen minutes is far too long to wait to have relevant information that could save lives, but over two hours is a travesty! I can't link to Geonet's webpage of the 7.6 Kermadec earthquake because it's currently down. Geonet also says:
Locating an earthquake involves a lot of data and while many of the processes are automated, the final review and location still involves a person having to review the data and location before it becomes available via the website and on social media.
GeoNets lack of warning for the 7.6 M Kermadec quake and possible tsunami could have put thousand's of lives in danger. Considering that the Kermadecs lie only 800km north of New Zealand and that many of this countries communities are coastal, even a medium sized tsunami could have devastating effects.

A tsunami early-warning system is conceivable for the South Island alpine fault and the Kermadec trench fault. The quake recurrence rate for the alpine fault is about once every 300 years, with the most recent event in 1717, which means a large earthquake of up to magnitude 8 is possible this century.

Japan had a televised warning when the huge magnitude 9 earthquake struck in March, with some areas having as much as 20 minutes to move to higher ground and safety before the tsunami struck.

The Japanese National Police Agency has confirmed 15,538 deaths, 5,685 injured and 7,060 people missing across eighteen prefectures, as well as over 125,000 buildings damaged or destroyed.

The overall cost could exceed US$300 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster on record.

In July, the inventor of the Japanese early warning system that would have saved thousands of lives, Dr Shigeki Horiuchi, visited New Zealand to promote an early warning system for quakes. He's a leading Japanese seismologist and chief executive of the Home Seismometer Corporation. 
“About one minute before the earthquake hits it issues a warning. A warning is sent via mass media before the quake is due to strike, allowing the public to take cover and the bullet trains to slow. The further away the earthquake is, the better the warning," he said.
It was reported that local scientists have strong reservations about the system. They did not elaborate on these reservations, but I surmise that it's the cost to implement a warning system that is the main inhibitor.

GNS Science tectonic geologist Dr Rupert Sutherland, says an early-warning system is conceivable. University of Otago geologist Professor Richard Norris, a member of the university's borehole project team, also said recently that a system using high-sensitivity equipment, high-speed computers and radio or satellite communications could pinpoint a quake in seconds.

Following the Japanese devastating 9 magnitude earthquake, many countries have moved to establish early warning systems. So why can't New Zealand do the same? The technology is available and relatively cost effective. In terms of how many lives it could save, it would be foolish not to implement an early warning system as soon as possible.