BART train slows during earthquake warning system test

It wasn't a typical Monday morning commute on BART.

Bay Area politicians, scientists and BART officials hopped on a train to experience first hand how the earthquake early warning system, called ShakeAlert, would work  if a quake were to strike.

There were no sudden stops.

Within a  few seconds warning the train slowed from 55 miles an hour down to a safer 27 mph. With an early warning system trains can slow or stop before the quake, preventing potential derailments and injuries. 

"You really didn't know anything was going on, right? That's the way we wanted it to happen. The train is slow, everyone is safe inside, and things go on as normal," said Robert DeGroot of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Scientists used the demonstration  to roll out the early warning system which operates out of the UC Berkeley Seismology Lab.

"Today is a very important day. Because I can say ShakeAlert is the most sophisticated early earthquake warning system in the world," said seismologist Richard Allen.

The system operates with ground sensors that pick up P-waves from a quake, which act as a warning. It could be a second or two or more.

"This is not just a game changer, it's a life changer," said California State Senator Jerry Hill of San Mateo.

Seismologists say local governments  can now use the technology.

"Cities can use ShakeAlert on automated systems that when a quake is detected, can automatically lift the gates to our fire stations," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf. 

They say the technology is available for software developers to create apps so anyone can get an earthquake warning.

"We are behind the curve to delivering that alert to everybody. We are calling on the great entrepreneurial spirit here to actually solve the problem for us," said Allen. 

Seismologists say the general public, may start getting earthquake warnings on their smart phones, perhaps within a year.