PNW Earthquake Early Warning Workshop 2013

PNW Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) Workshop

27 February 2013, University of Washington

Meeting Notes

The University of Washington, Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, in partnership with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, CalTech, UC Berkeley, and the USGS, is developing an Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system for the Pacific Northwest. The PNSN organized a workshop to introduce regional stakeholders to EEW and obtain their input to help direct the development and implementation process. The workshop brought together more than 50 people from private, public, political and governmental sectors to discuss the progress and future of the system.

Executive Summary:
The morning speakers provided a review of the work in California, the PNW and other countries. Highlights included learning how the Japanese EEW system works and specifically its impact during the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011; the total costs associated with a U.S. West Coast EEW plan, which are estimated to be $38M initially and $16M per year to maintain; and issues the PNW faces in gaining up to 3 minutes of warning before strong shaking arrives a given community.

The afternoon breakout sessions allowed attendees to discuss specific questions pertaining to EEW such as: what groups are ready for the system, are there implementation issues with giving warnings just to limited groups in the beginning, and how can we define and document EEW benefits for sensible long-term planning? These produced lively discussions with a diverse set of responses. Most of the organizations felt they were ready to take some actions based on an EEW system, although not able to take the full and best advantage. The consensus held that going ahead with current plans is a good beginning while blueprints for timely development of a fuller range of mitigation possibilities are developed learning from the experience of other EEW users around the world.

One topic of concern was what kind of public education program would be required to have the public make "risk wise decisions" after receiving the warning. What is the scope of effort needed? Who should be responsible for the education programs and how will they be funded? The groups spent some time on this topic and acknowledged that we must take into consideration the social and psychological factors.

Another area of in-depth discussion was a cost-benefit analysis. One suggestion was to form a working group to determine how to best compile existing data to demonstrate case studies, simple but effective formulas (based on reasonable assumptions) or existing tools to encompass out both tangible and intangible benefits.
Overall, the workshop provided an effective venue for discussion of EEW issues, identification of common issues, and formulation of plans for next steps to implement an EEW system.
Next Steps:
* Explore forming a cost benefit analysis sub-group;
* Explore further questions about communication to the public;
* Follow up with participants about organizations hosting an EEW prototype.
Workshop Summary

Morning - Presentations:
Lisa Graumlich, Dean, UW College of the Environment
Welcomed participants, thanked them all for coming, and thanked Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for its support of EEW.

Cynthia Atherton, Science Program Director, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation
Offered a brief history of the EEW project, expressed confidence that this project is of value, and recommended that its fruits should be shared with all citizens.

EEW Background and Current Work
Richard Allen, Prof and Director of Berkeley SeismoLab, UC Berkeley
Reviewed EEW concepts and current status of EEW globally in his talk "Earthquake Early Warning Around the World".

Doug Given, USGS EEW coordinator, Pasadena CA
Reviewed Moore and USGS EEW status, plans, and future possibilities for the US in his talk, "Earthquake Early Warning, Where we are and where we are going".

John Vidale, Prof and Director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN), UW,
Paul Bodin, Assoc. Prof and PNSN Manager, UW
Expanded on the application of EEW to the Pacific Northwest (PNW), and especially for great earthquakes along the coast in their talk, "West Coast Earthquake Early Warning, Issues and Imperatives".
The question arose about inclusion of ocean bottom seismometers in the mix. This would be quite helpful, but very expensive and so is not part of the currently proposed budget.

Afternoon – Breakouts and Discussion
Workshop attendees self-selected topics from our suggested list of seven for an hour of in-depth small-group discussion. Discussion on most topics was lively and reflected many points of view.

Question 1: Which groups are ready for warnings?
Persons from the following organizations comprised this group; Boeing, British Petroleum (pipeline division), Sound Transit, AT&T, Bonneville Power Administration, Microsoft, UC Berkeley, USGS Seattle, Port of Seattle, Geological Survey of Canada.

Most of the organizations felt they were ready to take some actions based on an EEW system, although not able to take the full and best advantage. The consensus held that going ahead with current plans is a good blueprint for timely development of a fuller range of mitigation possibilities in the future.
Regional energy pipelines operate control centers and can take action to close valves and stop the movement of product through the pipelines.

Boeing already has in place an emergency messaging system integrated into the desktop computer network that its employees use. However, it has not yet developed a system to shut down activity on the factory floor if an early warning was received.

The Port of Seattle would open its firehouse doors upon receipt of a warning and air traffic controllers at SeaTac would be prepared to delay plane landings during an event.

Sound Transit uses Burlington Northern-Santa Fe tracks for its longer haul commuter trains. The main control center for BNSF traffic is in Fort Worth, TX. Light rail traffic is controlled locally, as are Sound Transit buses. They could receive an EEW and send out messages to transit operators to make sure operating buses are not under overpasses. Perhaps light rail trains can be slowed or stopped - coordination throughout the system would be needed here. Bringing a regional passenger train to a halt safely takes some time.

AT&T has a global operations center that already received USGS global earthquake information and they act accordingly when a damaging earthquake occurs in a region that it serves. AT&T has an emergency information distribution in place for its employees based on text messaging.

Bonneville Power Administration has invested heavily in making substations and transformers more resistant to earthquakes. BPA is the major long-distance transmitter of electric power in the Pacific Northwest. It isn’t clear what the most useful response from BPA would be to an EEW. If you begin to shut down the grid you obviously are going to adversely affect everybody’s ability to respond effectively before, during and after a major seismic event. On the other hand, some if not many users are likely to lose power during and after the earthquake anyway.

Intel says 10 seconds warning would allow shut down for some manufacturing processes. However assembly line shut downs are quite expensive, so there is a low tolerance for false alarms. Intel’s insurer required that a “zero false-alarm” natural-gas shutdown system be installed at their chip assembly plants.

Question 2: What EEW product(s) are useful?
Products that EEW hopes to provide- magnitude, location, shaking intensity expected, time until shaking, uncertainty - (a) whether event happened, (b) intensity accuracy, (c) likelihood of event spreading to entire coast.

Products need to inform users not just that something has happened but also what they should do in response. Both messages (what’s happened and what to do) need to be very concise and simple.
A desktop “appliance” similar to the Japanese one Richard Allen showed in his talk seems attractive. One challenge to any products is how to keep users’ interest in them alive during the long hiatuses between earthquakes in the PNW. One possible approach to addressing this would be to have regular public tests of the products.

Elderly populations and others with disabilities have different needs for EEW. Some in this group are not very tech-savvy, and/or may not be able to respond as quickly or completely as others.
NOAA tsunami system experience may be useful, though they work on a somewhat different time scale. Tornado alert system may have useful lessons.

In some cases EEW alerts probably would not be used as automatic triggers for large-scale operations, but would still be very useful for the safety of individuals. For example, Puget Sound Energy would not start shut-down procedures based on an EEW notice at this time, requiring a human being to make the decision to do so. However, they would use notifications to alert their workers to take personal safety actions.

People did not seem to fully understand that warnings required significant processing, modeling, etc., but rather had the impression that the needed information was largely provided by the sensors, with most of the challenge being collecting the signals and distributing the alerts (i.e., don’t realize the greatest challenges lie in interpreting the signals!). Thus, their expectations about the reliability of warnings may be overly optimistic. However, the general sentiment expressed was that individuals would be tolerant of false alarms, that at least individuals had little to lose if warned unnecessarily. This might be different if warnings were used to trigger changes in major operations.

Question 3: What are the means of warning distribution?
This group attracted no volunteers, likely because it is an implementation detail to be faced later, with ample examples already from Japan and elsewhere.
Question 4: What groundwork is necessary to improve penetration of alerts?
i.e., (a) Public education, (b) better warning standardization, (c) USGS workshops.
We should ask the Weather Service for advice. Tornados are perhaps the closest meteorological analog to EEW, since tornado warnings are issued on the shortest timescale of all-weather warnings. The tsunami people certainly have useful experience in issuing warnings, though they have more time. Obviously the Japanese have lessons to teach from Tohoku.

A number of participants advocated that more effort be spent on the social and psychological (for a lack of a better phrase) sciences to construct education programs and warning messages that are effective in producing risk reduction actions. What can we realistically expect regarding what the “average citizen” will do when presented with an EEW? The information that we send and the instructions we give (either in real time or in pre-event education) should be crafted and evaluated using the best available science.

The technical part of the EEW system should be designed with careful consideration of the answers to the above questions.

Different segments of society (industry, government, public transit providers, school populations, “mid-lifers”, the elderly) may/will have need of different kinds of information in different formats. Once again, we should pay attention to these kinds of concerns.

When do we start “educating” the public? Some participants felt education should begin before an EEW becomes operational. How do we “educate” the public? How will the public educate us?). Some people recommended of an education budget of ~$16 million a year, comparable to the cost of the technical side of EEW.

“You can't overestimate the cost and effort required to educate the public.”

There may be a difference in the actions to be recommended for 3 minutes versus 10 seconds of warning, but it is not clear how practical it might be to make such distinctions.

Question 5: Are there implementation issues between the PNW, California, and Canada?
This question was delegated to David McCormack, in order to get an inside view rather than outsider guesswork. Across the Canada-US border there are two classes of problems:

1. Technical interoperability (e.g., compatible hardware, software, communications). Maintaining this ability is a continuous task.
2. Legal jurisdiction -- who has responsibility and authority to issue EEW?
In addition, it is surprising that liability has not arisen as complex issue, especially given Americans’ litigations nature and the Italian L’Aquila debacle. However, the USGS and the universities are staying abreast of the issue, and it does not appear debilitating.
3. There are a number of cross boarder initiatives (such as CREW) and data sharing agreements (Neptune project, NRCan/USGS, academic institutions, etc), that have already set a precedence for US/CAN cooperation. The continued collaboration between these jurisdictions is a benefit for all involved.

Question 6: Are there implementation issues with giving warnings just to limited groups in the beginning?
The self-selecting group of academics largely debated what does the question mean, rather than how to answer it. To the extent that questions were resolved, the discussion contributed to the overall conclusions summarized at the end below.

Question 7: How can we define cost vs. benefit for sensible planning?
This topic drew the greatest debates. On one hand, legislators routinely prioritize possible actions by their costs and benefits. On the other, EEW has cumulative, long-term, and evolving benefits that are difficult to quantify. Vidale’s talk reviewed many of these issues.
Discussion mostly (but not entirely) concluded that significant effort be expended to concretely quantify benefits and costs. Perhaps a focused workshop should be proposed for an agency to sponsor, or a new EEW working be formed for this express purpose, or a study be commission by people who do such evaluations routinely.

Other issues to remember:
* Problem of testing system --- small earthquakes are not a test.
* When a system is put into service it needs to be “exercised” regularly or it won't work when the time comes.
* The extent to which EEW overlaps with tsunami warning should be carefully coordinated with NOAA and the responsible State emergency managers.
A reception followed the workshop until 5pm, continuing individual EEW conversations.

Next Steps:

* Explore forming a cost benefit analysis sub-group;
* Explore the questions about communication to the public further;
* Follow up with participants about the possibility of testing an EEW prototype.
Contacts and More Information:

Supplementary materials were distributed, and are available here:
1. EEW Project FAQs.
2. Summary of Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) public opinion questionnaire about EEW (6000+ surveyed).
3. News item about recent Chinese EEW and its benefits.
4. Agenda and participant list.

Please feel free to contact John Vidale, at or 206-310-2131 or Bill Steele ( at UW with any questions or comments. Notes originally taken by Tom Yelin.