Wednesday, September 16, 2015

With time ticking, earthquake warning system begins to take shape in Pacific Northwest

Researchers at the University of Washington are testing an earthquake detection system that can sense movements in fault lines, which cause earthquakes and tsunamis. This system, once fully developed, could send out alerts to critical locations, such as hospitals and emergency management centers. The system, named ShakeAlert, has already been put into use in parts of California.  
            After reading this article, I see the many benefits of this ShakeAlert system. The article mentions that the system would be able to give researchers data on the quake’s strength, depth, and how long it will be before the quake hits a certain area. This data would be extremely valuable to have in order to track quake trends and help scientists predict future earthquake strength. This data could also help researchers of natural disasters who may want to explore their causes. Not only could this technology be used to serve the scientific community, but it could also benefit the general public by alerting us of impending quakes. The article mentions that the alerts could do things such as, “let motorists avoid bridges that may collapse, automatically open fire department bay doors so they aren't jammed shut during the coming quake...and shut down machinery at manufacturing plants.”[1] The ability to shut down things like bridges and plants during an earthquake would save many lives by keeping the public out of these dangerous situations. Alerting the public of a possible earthquake or tsunami will allow them to take the necessary precautions or evacuate the area, further limiting the damage the natural disaster can cause. The system can also alert hospitals so that they can prepare for more patients as a result of the quake, thus reducing the number of casualties they cause. Overall, this system appears to be a fantastic tool that would greatly reduce the damage caused by natural disasters.
            Despite its many advantages, there are some potential flaws in the system that the article does not discuss fully. Like any other computer based information system, ShakeAlert has the potential to be hacked. Hackers could break into the system and send out alerts that close bridges and manufacturing plants, thus creating problems for us in our daily lives. Sending out false alerts could also result in the public preparing for a disaster that will not happen, thus making them uneasy. Another implication of this system is its bugs. Since it has not been tested on a full-scale quake, how will we know if it can handle something of a larger magnitude? In order to ensure its success, we must run further tests. Finally, the article briefly mentions that the public’s lack of knowledge needs to be addressed before the system is utilized. If an alert is sent out, how do we want the public to respond? Due to ShakeAlert’s drawbacks, I believe developers should test it further before introducing it into more communities.

[1] “With time ticking, earthquake warning system begins to take shape in Pacific Northwest,”, last modified September 11, 2015,

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