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California's Early Warning, Detection & Alert Systems

California's Earthquake Prediction and Early Warning Systems

When will then next big earthquake will hit California? For years, earthquake researchers have been at work trying to develop more reliable methods of California earthquake prediction.

We know that California is earthquake country with nearly 16,000 known faults. There is a greater than 99 percent chance that a major earthquake will strike.* Keep in mind scientists are still finding new faults. Take for example new wrinkles in Earth’s crust found just a few miles southeast of Santa Cruz, California. This cluster of faults on the ocean floor would affect California’s Central Coast with tsunamis and earthquakes.

Some of the world’s most destructive earthquakes hit in areas that were believed to be relatively safe, such as Northridge in 1994. It occurred on a fault that did not even appear on seismic maps. The Northridge earthquake killed 57 people and injured close to 9,000. The Northridge earthquake also caused billions in residential damage alone.

What if there had been a warning?

How to Predict an Earthquake

Earthquake forecasting and warning are two separate and related activities. Both are reliant on developments in information and communications technologies. Machine learning may assist prediction in the future.

Today, United States Geological Service (USGS) scientists can only calculate the probability that a significant earthquake will occur in a specific area within a certain number of years.

For an earthquake prediction to be accurate, it must define the date and time, the location, and the magnitude of the quake. Research is now exploring the use of artificial intelligence to better understand fault physics.

Since scientists cannot forecast the where and when of the next major earthquake with certainty, CEA, USGS, and other agencies are focusing their efforts on safety and preparation.

Earthquake Safety and Prediction

Since the exact day and time of an earthquake cannot be predicted, there is a safety measure that meets at the crossroads of safety and prediction: an Earthquake Early Warning System (EEW).

EEW systems use earthquake science and monitoring systems to alert devices and people when shaking waves generated by an earthquake are expected to arrive at their location. The seconds of advance warning can allow people to take actions to protect themselves.

What is the Earthquake Early Warning System?

Smartphones can now warn Californians of an earthquake seconds before we can feel them. The shake alert early warning system reaches people in two ways: through an application (app) called MyShake, and through the existing wireless emergency alerts that sound an alarm on cellphones for flood warnings and missing children (Amber Alerts).

California’s Earthquake Warning MyShake gives you up to “tens of seconds” of advance notice before you might feel the ground shaking.

Earthquake Early Warning Basics

There are three different types of earthquake waves—P-waves, S-waves and surface-waves— during a major earthquake that are detected and by alert centers, and transmitted to the MyShake sensors.

  • The P-wave is fast moving and first to arrive.
  • Damage is caused by the slower S-waves and surface waves.
  • Sensors detect the P-wave and transmit data to the earthquake alert center.
  • A message from the alert center is transmitted to the MyShake app.

Get Earthquake Alerts to Your Phone from the MyShake App

The earthquake alert application for your smartphone is free. MyShake helps to improve California’s early warning system. Download it today. View the apps tutorial.

Share Your Experience and Become a Citizen Scientist

The Did You Feel It? (DYFI) feature of the MyShake app collects information from people who felt an earthquake and creates maps that show what people experienced and the extent of damage.

How Does an Earthquake Early Warning Keep You Safe Before and During a Quake?

MyShake technology can benefit your family and community:

  • Public Warning
  • First Responder Mobilization
  • Medical Providers Notified
  • Energy Sector and Utilities Notified
  • Mass Transit Systems
  • Workplace Safety

The length of the time you will have to act after notification is affected by the speed of the sensor system and your distance from the event.

In the future, people without smartphones, who have a disability, and who speak different languages will also get alerts via their televisions and radios. Alerts in Spanish and other languages will also be added.

What should you do if you had 10 seconds before an earthquake strike?

You may only have a few seconds to act when the earthquake alert goes off.

Stop Drop and Hold On Image

What should you do to survive an earthquake?

  • Many people are hurt while trying to move during shaking. It is safer to Drop, Cover, and Hold On until the shaking is over.
  • Avoid doorways. You’re actually at risk of the door swinging into you during the shaking.

Follow these tips to protect yourself and your family prepare for an earthquake at home, work, on the road, and outside.

  • At home.
  • Stay in place. Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Take cover under sturdy furniture such as a heavy desk or table, or against an inside wall. Move away from where glass could shatter around windows, mirrors, pictures, or where heavy bookcases or other heavy furniture could fall over.

Wait until the shaking stops and then check if others are hurt. There may be several AFTERSHOCKS. If you leave the building after the shaking stops, use the stairs. Never use the elevator.

  • In a high-rise building, office or school -Move away from windows. Drop on your hands and knees; cover your head with your arms and hold on to your neck. If there’s no desk, crawl to an interior wall and cover your head and neck.
  • While driving -Avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, and signs. Pull over to the side of the road. Stop. Set the parking brake. Remain in the car until the shaking stops. After the shaking stops, check radio reports on open roads. Drive carefully to avoid fallen debris and damaged pavement.
  • In bed -Stay put. Lie face down to protect your body from falling objects. Cover your head and neck with a pillow. Keep your arms as close to your head as possible.
  • Outdoors - Move away from power lines, buildings and vehicles. Then drop, and cover your head.
  • At a theater or stadium - Drop to the ground in front of your seat, or lean over as much as possible. Cover your head with your arms. Hold on to your neck with both hands until the shaking stops. Exit the venue slowly. Watch for anything that could fall during aftershocks.
  • With young children -An adult should hold an infant against their chest, Drop. Cover. Hold On. This provides more protection above and on both sides of the baby.
  • With older children - if there’s no desk to shelter under, drop to the ground and move to an inside corner of the room if possible. You and your children should assume a crawling position. Practice Drop, Cover, and Hold On before the earthquake.
  • In a wheelchair -Lock the wheels. Bend over and cover your head with your arms if possible. Brace your neck.

How to Prepare for an Earthquake at Home

The shaking from a major earthquake can move almost everything inside your home. Think about what could be thrown around or tipped over.

Securing your space can help keep your family safer and prevent the injury of your loved ones. According to a UCLA study, the majority of the injuries from the damaging 1994 Northridge Earthquake were from heavy furniture and household objects falling on people.

To be truly prepared for next earthquake, evaluate the safety of your home. This home safety review should rank high on your earthquake preparation checklist, after preparing your earthquake safety kit and gathering essential supplies.

Wondering what to pack in your earthquake preparedness kit? Follow these blog tips to help you get ready for indoor and outdoor situations.

What are the chances of an earthquake in California?

California is earthquake country. You can’t predict when the next earthquake will strike. But you can prepare for the next major earthquake.

In 2015, the Working Group on California Earthquake Probabilities published the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, Version 3 (UCERF3). Within this document, scientists conclude it is certain that another major earthquake will occur in California in the coming years.

The likelihood that California will experience a magnitude 8 or larger earthquake in the next 30 years increased to about 7% in UCERF3. Other findings include:

  • Greater increase in the likelihood of larger earthquakes in the Los Angeles region due to multi-fault ruptures.
  • The Southern San Andreas Fault is the most likely to host a large earthquake.
  • In Northern California, the Hayward-Rodgers Creek and Calaveras faults are more likely to rupture.

USGS Shake Alert Resources

*According to the third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast (UCERF3) report.

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