BERKELEY, Calif. (KTVU) - In any natural emergency, an early warning even if it comes by in a matter of seconds can be the difference between life and death.
That's the idea behind an earthquake early warning systems that's currently under development with the help of scientists at U.C. Berkeley.
It could one day alert much of the Bay Area to an earthquake before they happen but the system
New technology is in the works that could have changed the reaction to the 6-point-9 Loma Prieta earthquake back in 1989.
ShakeAlert can't predict an earthquake before it hits, but it can give notice before the shaking happens.
"There's some delay between when the earthquake starts and when those waves move out like ripples in a pond moving away from the stone that you throw," said Angela Chung, a Seismologist, Berkeley Seismology Lab.
Chung, who is part of the team Berkeley Seismology Lab developing the technology, told us that the system uses sensors that sit atop fault lines across the Bay Area and other parts of California.
"BART has been a partner for with the Shake Alert system for many, many years," said Jennifer Strauss, External Relations Officers at Berkeley Seismology Lab. "They get the alert into their control room and depending on where the earthquake is, how big it is, how much shaking is expected for the trains. They can slow or stop the trains or hold them in position."
Menlo Park integrated into Fire Station 6 a system developed by a company called SkyAlert, which important data from the Sensor Network to protect the fire station in the event of an earthquake.
Once SkyAlert senses shaking from an earthquake, it performers a series of tasks such has opening fire house bay doors and shutting off gas in the kitchen so there's no chance of fires.
"It's really about being able to act at the moment that we hear the warning," SkyAlert CEO Alejandro Cantu told KTVU about how the system works.
But the key to the system is the data from the ShakeAlert sensors, which can give people in the vicinity of an earthquake as much as a sixty seconds heads up, but there is a drawback to the advance-warning technology.
The closer that a person in standing to the epicenter of an earthquake. The less warning since it is the quake itself that triggers to alert so people further away get a bigger heads up in the expected tremor.
"Some people might say what can you do with just a couple of seconds? But you can drop, cover and hold on. You can get safe," said Chung, the seismologist at Berkeley Seismology Lab)
While transit and emergency responders begin working with the technology, a timeline for when the Bay Area public can down a ShakeAlert app remains unclear.
Countries like Mexico and Japan have had early earthquake warning systems for years, which has worked well at alerting residents to several major earthquakes, but mostly because earthquakes in those countries happen off-shore.
Scientists say detection in the Bay Area and all along the Pacific Coast is more challenging... in part because most of our earthquakes happen on land.... right along those fault lines.