EU funded project to develop earthquake early warning system
Developing the tools needed to develop an effective earthquake early warning system in Europe is the goal of the EU-funded SAFER (Seismic Early Warning System for Europe) project, the system
exploits the fact that when an earthquake happens, two types of waves are generated.
The primary or P waves travel relatively fast, at around six kilometres per second, while the secondary or S waves are slower, with a speed of around 3.5 kilometres per second. Most of the
damage is caused by the S waves.
‘The P waves are not the most dangerous,’ explained project coordinator Professor Jochen Zschau of the German National Research Centre for Geosciences. ‘They can be taken as a warning for the
secondary waves which are much more dangerous.’
Depending on the distance between the earthquake’s epicentre and the city in question, there can be a time delay of several seconds between the arrival of the P waves and the arrival of the
slower S waves. Although this may not sound like long, a few seconds is enough to shut down key systems and take measures to minimise damage. For example, traffic lights allowing traffic onto
bridges could be switched to red, gas pressure could be switched off, schoolchildren would have time to dive under their desks and computing systems would be able to save crucial data and shut
The goal of the SAFER project is to pave the way for a European earthquake early warning system, which would detect the P waves and automatically generate alerts which would trigger the kinds
of responses outlined above. Such systems already exist in other parts of the world; in Mexico City the system even interrupts radio programmes. However, currently no European cities have such
a system, although the whole of the Mediterranean region is at risk of earthquakes, with the risk increasing from west to east.
The project will focus in particular on five cities: Istanbul, Bucharest, Athens, Naples and Cairo. While these cities already have seismic networks, their coverage is low. One of the central
aims of the SAFER project is to boost the coverage of these networks by creating people-centred warning sensors.
In this system, ordinary households and businesses would purchase sensors. These would be integrated into a network and businesses could also link them up to their own crucial systems to ensure
that they are shut down as soon as P waves are detected. The project partners hope to have a prototype for such a sensor ready by the end of the project.
‘Our vision is that every house has such an instrument,’ Professor Zschau told CORDIS News.
The project partners are also interested in what happens in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake. When a quake strikes, some the amount of ground motion varies depending on factors such as
soil type, sediment thickness and resonance frequencies. The goal is to be able to create, within minutes of the quake occurring, maps of where the motion was strongest and where damage is most
severe. With this information, disaster response teams can prioritise their work more effectively.
The project is funded under the Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystems thematic area of the Sixth Framework Programme. It started in June 2006 and will run until the end of 2008.
For more information on Sustainable Development, Global Change and Ecosystem research under FP6: