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Mexico Knows if There's an Earthquake Coming, Why Doesn't the U.S.?

Efraim Petel - Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives at AtHoc

Mexico Knows if There's an Earthquake Coming, Why Doesn't the U.S.?

As a follow-up to my blog on March 27th (“Gone to Mexico—For Earthquake Training”), I discussed Mexico’s efforts to develop not only an earthquake detection network but also a broader network to warn people on a mass basis that an earthquake wave was approaching. The first step was to integrate an emergency mass notification system with the earthquake sensors so that people could immediately receive warnings via sirens, loudspeaker announcements, and radio and t.v. coverage. The states of Guerrero and Chiapas conducted tests of the detection and warning system on March 19th and March 20th with exercises that involved a total of more than 4.5 million people. The Mexican government used AtHoc’s emergency mass notification technology for those tests.

Since that time, Mexico experienced a 7.2. earthquake last Friday, April 18th, in almost the exact same region where they conducted the March trials. AtHoc’s solutions were also used for mass notification during the earthquake.

In our view, the most important statistic is that there was no loss of life. That did not happen by accident. The Mexican government should be commended for their foresight in conducting the exercises. Success and the protection of lives depended on the training and involvement on a mass scale by the general population to be aware of and cooperate with the government’s efforts.

It was the priority of Juan Manuel Espinosa Aranda, director of the Center for Seismic Registry and Instruments, and his team, to develop a system that also took into account the need for communication to the general public. We are working with Director Espinosa and his team to expand their use of emergency mass notification solutions beyond just siren and loudspeaker announcements.

As Senior Espinosa put it, “For us, it is not enough to have just an earthquake detection system. Our goal is to take things a step further and develop a warning system that will result in being able to warn all of the population on a targeted basis. We want to be able to alert people in advance of the earthquake hitting and to tell people how much time they have to take cover. That is our target and we continue to make progress.”

It is to the credit of Senior Espinosa and his team and the Mexican government that the population of Mexico City had a warning of more than a minute before the earthquake hit – 71 precious seconds to try and take cover.

To give you a sense of the timing involved, we developed an accurate simulation of a March 20th, 2012 seismic event, emulating the spread of an earthquake that struck off the coast of Mexico. What you see in this video is the earthquake tripping the sensors on the west coast. The sensors light up different colors based on the intensity of the non-destructive wave P-wave followed by the destructive S-wave. The waves grow in concentric circles with the color of the indicator lights determined by the seismic impact with red being the most intense, followed by orange and green.

Interestingly enough, the video follows almost the exact same path of the earthquake from last Friday, again, showing the foresight of the Mexican government and their preparations. Note the immediate alert provided to the public when the radio transmitters lit up in the color blue at the various cities within 2 seconds, long before the destructive wave reached the actual location. The video can be found at this link:

The Japanese are paying a lot of attention to seismic event warnings, naturally, considering their horrific experience in March of 2011. Dr. Mitsuyuki Hoshiba, the head of the Japanese Earthquake Prediction Information Division of Japan Meteorological Agency, congratulated Mexican authorities after the last event, highlighting the results’ importance to the community of researchers studying earthquake early warning processes around the whole world.

Our hope is that the rest of the world – the United States in particular – will make note of Mexico’s groundbreaking efforts to develop a combined process to sense an earthquake and to simultaneously send out mass communication alerts to targeted segments of the population.

Mexico is showing that this is possible, and saving lives.

Efraim Petel - Senior Director of Strategic Initiatives at AtHoc
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