WASHINGTON - No one can stop earthquakes, but scientists are working on ways to get a faster heads-up when they occur so that first responders and transportation managers have a little extra time to act.
"Information can travel faster over phone lines and over the internet than seismic waves can travel," says Elizabeth Cochran, a seismologist with the United States Geological Survey.
The same technology that sends emails in seconds is playing a big part in the development of an early detection system, Cochran says.
The USGS is piloting a program that bundles the information gathered in seismic detection sites and speeds it to the USGS so that early warnings can be issued.
"It's not any kind of prediction or forecasting," Cochran explains. "It's measuring very quickly where that earthquake is and how big it's going to be."
When the 5.8 quake struck Mineral, Va. last year, Washingtonians got on their phones and flooded Twitter with their experiences. And just as Washingtonians were telling friends in New York what had happened, the New Yorkers were getting the first rumbles.
Cochran says that's a good example of how the early detection system would work: Giving people some distance from the epicenter more time to act.
The idea is that first responders could make decisions about deployment, rail operations could slow or stop to avoid derailments and airport managers could cancel landings ahead of impact. Cochran says it's not that there's new technology, but new software programs and networks could help tie monitoring and information systems together.
The USGS will be holding a Congressional briefing on the early detection system on Friday.
For more information, check the USGS site.
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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)
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