On February 2 the Obama Administration hosted an Earthquake Resilience Summit and announced several actions intended to improve the nation’s response to earthquakes. Per a 2015 assessment by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), over 140 million Americans are currently exposed to potentially damaging earthquakes. This is nearly double the estimate in 2006, and reflects both population growth in earthquake-prone regions and improvements in earthquake science.
The Summit was an opportunity to announce a number of federal, state and local initiatives to increase earthquake preparedness. They include developments in creating a federal standard for earthquake resilience and the beta testing phase of a west coast earthquake early warning test system (ShakeAlert). The announced projects included support from private organizations and utility companies.
From my perspective in a non-earthquake prone portion of the country, I think the most visible aspect of these efforts will be the integrated west coast earthquake warning system. The warning is for the heavy shaking, based on early detection of fast-moving, low-damage waves that precede the big shakes. While it will provide just seconds of warning, it would allow for preparations (like stopping trains and other mass transportation systems) that could seriously mitigate property damage and loss of life. There’s a lot of work ahead to extend and refine this system, and I hope that it can get the attention it needs through this summit to get the resources it needs to be effective.