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Big earthquakes may give warning signals

Original post made on Dec 12, 2007

Earthquakes are unpredictable, but there is a chance that large earthquakes may give a detectable sign a week or more before they strike, according to a Stanford University researcher.

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Comments (5)

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Posted by Shake-Rattle-and-Roll
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2007 at 3:49 pm

This idea has been around for a while, as this 2003 article from an Australian paper demonstates:

Web Link

Mr Kushida believes that changes in electromagnetic radio waves are a harbinger of quakes, a discovery he happened upon after the last disastrous one to hit Japan, when more than 6400 people were killed in Kobe in 1995.

The question about "what to do" if you knew that there might be an earthquake tomorrow (or the next day, or the day after that) still needs to be answered.

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Posted by Mark
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 12, 2007 at 8:24 pm

There are so many things one could do if you knew an earthquake would happen in several hours or days, albeit it's seemingly small things. I could imagine it being like getting a "Hurricane Watch" or "Warning" in Florida.

1) Fire departments could keep their bay doors open so as to prevent the doors jamming in an earthquake.

2) Residents of places with elevators could be advised to take the stairs to avoid being trapped in an elevator if the shaking happens.

3) People can go around their houses to ensure that their rooms have been secured and heavy objects removed from shelves.

4) PANDA and other disaster groups could start preparing staging areas and emergency contact lists.

5) KZSU and other important radio stations could review their backup plans.

6) Hospitals could evacuate "high risk" areas that are not seismically safe

And the list goes on! Having said that, even a few seconds warning might be useful to get people to "DROP, COVER AND HOLD ON".

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Posted by purpose of information
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 12, 2007 at 8:36 pm

Yes. Would the entire Bay Area evacuate to the Central Valley or Nevada for 2-3 weeks until "it hits"? Nervously stick around for those 2-3 weeks and drive all the way around the Bay to avoid bridges, while staying out of multistory buildings? I imagine that this information would mostly just prolong acute anxiety.

We live in earthquake country. We live here knowing that an earthquake could strike any time, and we know we're supposed to be prepared.

I suppose if we could really pinpoint it to 2-3 hours beforehand, we could close the bridges and tunnels, which might save some lives.

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Posted by Shake-Rattle-and-Roll,
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2007 at 8:37 pm

And the list goes on!

Well, people who live in Hurricane country have warnings in terms of days and all too frequently don't do nearly enough (depending on where they live). Earthquakes generally are generally short (20 seconds to 60 seconds) and don't do much damage.

Dogs and cats seem to be sensitive to the "rumblers" and frequently run away from home. A local geologist has made a name for himself reading the missing animal ads in the local papers and predicting pending quakes with fairly good accuracy. Still, few people seem to take notice.

Like this comment
Posted by Shake-Rattle-and-Roll
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2007 at 9:17 pm

> I suppose if we could really pinpoint it to 2-3 hours
> beforehand, we could close the bridges and tunnels,
> which might save some lives.

The problem, of course, is that this sort of quake "predictor" will not likely have the kinds of time granularity that a tornado or an hurricane provides. Given the immense mass involved seismic events, it is very unlikely that 2-3 hour resolution on the time line would be possible.

So, people might know that sometime in the next few days a quake of some magnitude might occur. Can a large regional area really afford to shut down all of its transit (including Mass Transit) for the periods where these vague predictions would be in effect? Probably not.

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