California rolls out first earthquake early warning system in the US

California is the first state in the US to introduce an earthquake early warning system. The launch of the system coincides with the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which claimed 63 lives and caused another 3,757 injuries. In addition to delivering traditional emergency alerts, the new system also utilizes a smartphone app.

Earthquakes are common in California, which has a long history of destructive quakes with more anticipated in the future. Joining Japan and select other regions, California now utilizes an early warning system that involves ground motion sensors designed to pick up on the subtle shakes that precede an earthquake — ones too gentle for humans to feel.

According to state Governor Gavin Newsom, the California Earthquake Early Warning System will issue alerts seconds before an earthquake strikes using the Wireless Emergency System and the MyShake app from the University of California – Berkeley.

Of course, how early of an alert someone will receive depends on where they are located relative to the earthquake's epicenter. State officials are using the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake as an example, explaining that people in Candlestick Park nearest where the quake struck would have had around a 15-second warning. Those farther away in the northern part of the county would have had another two or three seconds.

Though the advance notice is small, it gives people precious time to get out of a dangerous environment, such as near shelving or a hot cooking surface, as well as providing time to get ahold of kids and take cover. These actions are very important, the state points out. By having time to get cover before the shaking states, the system may save lives and reduce injuries.