Seismologists Work to Develop Earthquake Alert System

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The 4.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked Southern California on Monday morning is fast becoming known for sending a pair of Los Angeles TV news anchors diving under a desk for cover. But the tremblor also gave proof to researchers that an early-warning system for earthquakes worked. Jean Elle reports.

    The 4.4 magnitude earthquake that rocked Southern California on Monday morning is fast becoming known for sending a pair of Los Angeles TV news anchors diving under a desk for cover.

    But the temblor also gave proof to researchers that an early-warning system for earthquakes worked.

    Researchers at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena are working on the system. They were notified of the earthquake 8 seconds before the shaking began.

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    Back in the Bay Area, seismologists at the United States Geological Survey in Menlo Park are working with university researchers to improve the early-warning system.

    Seismologist David Oppenheimer would like to see the earthquake warnings sent to smart phones in the next five years.

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    Researchers said if you are right next to the epicenter of the earthquake, you will not receive a warning. But those who are several miles away will -- sensors near the source have time to gather information and send out the warning.

    Oppenheimer says the system needs about $80 million in upgrades before it's ready for smart phones. He added that the system would be most effective in areas with a robust system of sensors.

    "There will be some areas like the Bay Area where we have enough seismic stations where it would work as well as we saw in LA this morning," Oppenheimer said.

    Seismologists said improving the system will be difficult because they can only test it during actual earthquakes.