Who needs science when you have pointless gadgetry?

Those clever Japanese have done it again – whilst seismologists look in increasingly unlikely places for a method of reliably predicting earthquakes, they’ve produced a little box which provides a timely warning of impending doom:

A broadband and communications provider serving parts of the Tokyo area, will offer an earthquake advance warning sytem to subscribers beginning October 1, 2007. The “Urgent Earthquake News Flash”, issued from Japan’s Meteorological Agency, will be transmitted to specially installed terminals that use fixed-line phone lines.

The system forecasts the quake arrival time and the seismic intensity of the tremor, 10 seconds in advance, 24/7.

A voice will automatically announce, in Japanese, “The earthquake of four in the seismic intensity will come in ten seconds. 10-9-8 etc.”


Imagine the peace of mind this device will provide for everyone living on the 27th floor of a skyscraper Рrather than sitting around ignorance as the deadly seismic waves race towards Tokyo, they will now have a whole ten seconds to panic get to a place of safety before the quake hits. And all for the bargain price of 23,000 yen (about £100, or $200).
Thanks to Mo for bringing this exciting news to my attention (and for making me choke on my coffee).

Categories: earthquakes

Comments (7)

  1. Kim says:

    That’s hilarious. I’m lucky that I finished my coffee before I read this.
    (Actually, I think I had about that much time between the P-waves and the surface waves of the one big earthquake I was in. It was enough time for me to decide to wedge myself in the doorway and yell “Is this an earthquake? Is this an earthquake?” until the shaking stopped. I’m not sure that the warning was necessarily useful, though…)

  2. Ron Schott says:

    I’m not sure the current Japanese invention will be reliable or even useful, but it may well be based on good scientific ideas that are pointing to genuinely useful early warning systems that may be developed in the next few decades. To get a sense of where the current state of the art in (genuine, scientific) earthquake prediction in the USA is you might be interested in viewing KQED’s most recent QUEST science video blog post: http://www.kqed.org/quest/television/view/570
    During the last 1/4 of the segment Richard Allen, a UC-Berkeley geophysicist, discusses just such a short term warning system and describes some of the genuinely useful things that might be done with 10 seconds of warning (e.g., slowing or stopping BART trains before the damaging S-waves arrive). It’s easy to chuckle over the possible misuses of such a technology, but used properly they may save lives, which is no laughing matter.

  3. Chris says:

    Ten seconds is long enough to get away from dirty great whirling hunks of machinery, if you’re at work instead of at home. Or to adopt ye olde “cowering in terror under hefty furniture” attitude, well away from the windows.
    I think you’re being too cynical 🙂 And you should go outside to drink coffee, that way you get some vitamin D and you’re in less danger of spitting it all out as you read your daily blogs. Speaking of which….

  4. Janne says:

    Living in Japan as I do, you’re really shortchanging this warning system. No, ten (or up to thirty, depending on size and location) seconds won’t give you time to run to the hills. Neither would five minutes or five hours warning.
    But ten seconds is the difference between getting unjured or no – or getting killed or not – for a lot of people. Most injuries and fatalities in an earthquake are not from your building collapsing on you. They come from you falling or toppling, from heavy objects hitting you during the quake or being pinned and burning to death in fires afterward. And ten seconds is enough to get off the stairs or get down from a ladder or chair; it’s enough to turn off the gas stove or the tabletop grill; and it’s enough to get under a table, bed or other protective place. You may even have the time (especially if you’ve thought it through beforehand) to grab your emergency bag or fire extinguisher while running for cover. And this warning system is also intended to trigger the automated gas pipe shutdown earlier, further decreasing the risk of fire, as well as switch hospitals and other critical places to in-house emergency power supplies.
    With ten seconds warning, a lot of the fatalities in Kobe could have been avoided. Those ten seconds can save your life.

  5. Harold Asmis says:

    I hear they are building extremely tall skyscrapers in earthquake country, so that should give you another second or two! (at the top!). As we have seen, these distant earthquakes are not the main threat to modern structures. It’s those M7 ‘high speed’ thrust faults right under nuclear plants and cities.

  6. Kim says:

    Well, there’s a lot to be said for a 10-second warning for a lot of industrial applications. (Slow the bullet train, shut off gas, shut off heavy machinery.) (And doesn’t Japan already use something like this to slow the bullet train?) But for individuals… the question is what people will do with those ten seconds. If they turn off the stove, grab a flashlight, and get beneath heavy furniture, great; if they all rush for the door at the same time, you get lots of trampled people.

  7. Chris says:

    Kim, I don’t know about Japan, but in New Zealand you get the earthquake response drilled into you, and they say “don’t try and get outside until the shaking has stopped”. My reflex first response to a quake is to look for shelter, not a door.
    Well, that would be my first response in NZ, anyway. In Australia I’d be jumping out the nearest window — most of the buildings here are un-reinforced masonry. I’ve seen what happens to that when you shake it.