Development of an earthquake early warning capability and pilot project were objectives of TriNet, a 5-year (1997-2001) FEMA-funded project to develop a state-of-the-art digital seismic network in southern California. In parallel with research to assemble a protocol for rapid analysis of earthquake data and transmission of a signal by TriNet scientists and engineers, the public policy, communication and educational issues inherent in implementation of an earthquake early warning system were addressed by TriNet's outreach component. These studies included: 1) a survey that identified potential users of an earthquake early warning system and how an earthquake early warning might be used in responding to an event, 2) a review of warning systems and communication issues associated with other natural hazards and how lessons learned might be applied to an alerting system for earthquakes, 3) an analysis of organization, management and public policy issues that must be addressed if a broad-based warning system is to be developed and 4) a plan to provide earthquake early warnings to a small number of organizations in southern California as an experimental prototype. These studies provided needed insights into the social and cultural environment in which this new technology will be introduced, an environment with opportunities to enhance our response capabilities but also an environment with significant barriers to overcome to achieve a system that can be sustained and supported. In this presentation we will address the main public policy issues that were subjects of analysis in these studies. They include a discussion of the possible division of functions among organizations likely to be the principle partners in the management of an earthquake early warning system. Drawing on lessons learned from warning systems for other hazards, we will review the potential impacts of false alarms and missed events on warning system credibility, the acceptability of fully automated warning systems and equity issues associated with possible differential access to warnings. Finally, we will review the status of legal authorities and liabilities faced by organizations that assume various warning system roles and possible approaches to setting up a pilot project to introduce early warning. Our presentation will suggest that introducing an early warning system requires multi-disciplinary and multi-agency cooperation and thoughtful discussion among organizations likely to be providers and participants in an early warning system. Recalling our experience with earthquake prediction, we will look at early warning as a promising but unproven technology and recommend moving forward with caution and patience.
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