Earthquake Early Warning Could Help Mid-South

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(Walls, MS) Walls Mayor Patti Denison’s job is to prepare for disasters, but earthquakes aren’t exactly at the top of her list.

"Probably think more about tornadoes and more weather related."

But she knows earthquakes do happen in these parts, so she’s glad to know earthquake research has found a way to give an early warning of seismic disaster.

An early warning system, like the one already in place in Japan, could eventually help Californians get an early warning that can save lives.

"On your cellphone, places in Japan, there are apps. Fifty million people got a warning on their smartphones for the Tohoku earthquake,” said Cal Tech Seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones.

That quake, in 2011, registered a 9.0 and carried a big cost in lives and damage.

The early warning system uses a sophisticated computer to interpret data from sensors in the ground, and sounds the alarm before a quake hits the surface or a populated area.

”If we can reduce damage by a small percentage of fraction, this system would more than pay for itself," explained California Assemblyman Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima.

And that’s why California lawmakers and its Governor have agreed to look for money to do it.

Scientists say the mid-South is particularly vulnerable to earthquakes due to the soft delta soil that actually magnifies the earthquake waves.

So could an early warning system like California’s help us here?

”Certainly,” says Dr. Charles Langston, head of the Center for Earthquake Research at the University of Memphis.

He believes even a brief warning gives us a chance to stop machinery and take cover.

”If we had an early warning system, we could have...probably 30 to 40 more seconds before the shaking gets here."

He says we already have the sensors in place for it here, but lack the sophisticated computer programs to interpret the data.

”One of my friends in California says it’s coming sooner than later,” Langston warned.

And that’s always in the back of Mayor Denison’s mind.

"I'm encouraged by these early warning networks, I am. Any warning, is better than no warning."

And experts say 30 seconds is just enough to safe lives.