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Practical limitations of Earthquake Early Warning

April 12, 2020

Earthquake Early Earning (EEW) entails detection of initial earthquake shaking and rapid estimation and notification to users prior to imminent, stronger shaking. EEW is coming to the U.S. West Coast. But what are the technical and social challenges to delivering actionable information on earthquake shaking before it arrives? Although there will be tangible benefits, there are also limitations. Basic seismological principles, alert communication challenges, and potential response actions as well as substantial lessons learned from the use of EEW in Japan, point to more limited opportunities to warn and protect than perhaps many expect. This is in part because potential warning times vary by region and are influenced by tectonic environment, hypocentral depth, and the fault’s proximity to the alert user. For the U.S. West Coast, particularly for crustal earthquakes, warning times are less impressive—and possible mitigation actions are likely to be less effective—than often maintained. Nevertheless, EEW is an additional arrow in the quiver of earthquake information tools available in the service of earthquake risk reduction. What is called for, then, is transparency and balance in the EEW discussion: along with its potential, the acknowledgement of EEW’s inherent and practical limitations is needed. Recognizing these limitations could, in fact, make EEW implementation more successful as part of a holistic earthquake mitigation strategy, where its role among other earthquake information tools is quite natural.

Publication Year 2020
Title Practical limitations of Earthquake Early Warning
DOI 10.1177/8755293020911388
Authors David J. Wald
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earthquake Spectra
Index ID 70209647
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Geologic Hazards Science Center