Governor rolls out earthquake warning app on day of Great California ShakeOut

App could provided critical seconds to prepare for a jolt

Students at Alice Birney Elementary School drop, cover and hold on under their desks during the 11th annual Great California ShakeOut on Thursday afternoon, which was also the 30th anniversary of the deadly Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the launch of a statewide early earthquake notification app on the same day as the ShakeOut. (Sonia Waraich — The Times-Standar)d
PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:

Californians from every corner of the state marked the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 with an earthquake drill and the launch of a statewide earthquake early warning system.

More than 36,836 Humboldt County residents signed up to participate in the earthquake drill on Thursday as part of the 11th annual Great California ShakeOut, from schools such as Alice Birney Elementary School students to nonprofits and health care facilities such as Food For People and St. Joseph Hospital in Eureka.

Across the state, more than 10 million people participated in the ShakeOut.

On the same day, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the launch of an app that will let residents know to drop, cover and hold in the seconds before an earthquake exceeding a magnitude of 4.5 strikes in their area.

“Nothing can replace families having a plan for earthquakes and other emergencies,” Newsom said in a release. “And we know the Big One might be around the corner. I encourage every Californian to download this app and ensure your family is earthquake ready.”

A mobile phone customer looks at an earthquake warning application on their phone in Los Angeles. Earthquake early-warning alerts will become publicly available throughout California for the first time this week, potentially giving people time to protect themselves from harm, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services said. (The Associated Press file)

Those watching the World Series game in Candlestick Park during the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989 would have received approximately 15 seconds of notice, while those in Marin County, which is farther north, would have gotten around 17 or 18 seconds notice, according to a release from the governor’s office.

Having early notification can be critical for agencies that can use those few seconds to do as much preparation as they can, said Lori Dengler, Humboldt State University geology professor. For instance, train systems can slow down and stop before an earthquake strikes and a doctor in the middle of surgery can secure things in that time.

For a person who might be getting laser eye surgery, “those 10 seconds can make a big difference between having eyesight or not,” Dengler said.

While the notification system is going to be helpful in alerting people far enough away from the epicenter of an earthquake, Dengler said those at the epicenter of the earthquake won’t get notification ahead of time at all. How well the notification system works will depend on the distance a person is from the earthquake’s epicenter, how strong that earthquake is and how many seismic stations are near the epicenter, she said.

Despite having some of the largest numbers of earthquakes, Dengler said “we have the least dense seismic network” compared to Southern California and other parts of the state.

“Where we are, we’re adding more stations,” Dengler said. “They’re adding more stations all the time, but we still have a number of areas on the North Coast where we don’t really have a lot of seismic stations, so if an earthquake starts in one of those empty spaces, then it’s going to take longer before we get notification.”

It’s not possible to predict earthquakes, Dengler said, so the seismic stations quickly analyze the seismic activity and send out the best information possible based on that analysis. That leaves room for erroneous or late notifications, but Dengler said the app still holds a lot of potential.

That being said, Dengler said, “On the North Coast, we’ll still have plenty of earthquakes where you’re going to feel them before there’s an alert.”

To download the app or learn more about it, go to www.earthquake.ca.gov.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

blog comments powered by Disqus