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Survey on Early Earthquake Warning

New Zealanders are being asked to take part in a survey on what they would do if they had prior warning that a strong earthquake was approaching and what type of early warning system best suit their community.

The survey is part of a research project which is being funded by the Earthquake Commission and led by Dr Julia Becker who is based at Massey University in Wellington. The research team also compromises of earthquake scientists, engineers, and other social scientists from GNS Science, Massey University and the University of Auckland.

Dr Becker says that countries like Japan, Mexico and Taiwan have systems that give a warning from seconds to up to two minutes that strong earthquake shaking is about to strike.

“The survey is being carried out to understand how New Zealanders would respond to an early warning about incoming earthquake shaking. We also want to find out how they would want it to work. For instance, what is the minimum strength of shaking would they want to be warned about and how would they like to receive the warning.

“It is important that as many people as possible, from as many places as possible, take part in the survey.”

Dr Becker says that her team have been talking to emergency managers in hospitals, road and rail transport, education and other sectors in New Zealand and overseas to see how they would use an early warning system in their operations.

“We know for instance in Japan that train drivers slow down and surgeons make patients safe during an operation once they receive a warning.

“The team’s research will indicate what some benefits of an early warning system would be for the community. There will no doubt be other studies on the economic and engineering aspects before an early warning system is seriously considered.”

EQC’s Director of Resilience Research Dr Hugh Cowan says Dr Becker’s research is unique in that the starting point is to consult with the New Zealand public on what early earthquake warning system would best for them and their community.

“This research is an excellent first step in understanding whether an earthquake early warning system would be useful for New Zealand. When systems such as this are developed, they often start with the engineering side of things whereas this project puts people first. It is about finding out what people think would work for them to shape further design and development.

“As with all EQC funded research, the results will be openly available to all, and there is already a lot of interest internationally in the survey findings,” says Dr Cowan.

How does earthquake early warning work?

Dr Becker says early warning systems can work because earthquakes send out two kinds of waves - P- waves and S-waves.

"It is similar to lightning and thunder. When the electrical discharge happens, you first see the lightning that travels really fast, and you hear the thunder later depending on how far away you are.

"With an earthquake, the P-waves travel very fast and are picked up by sensors first, automatically sending an alert to locations further away warning them to expect strong earthquake shaking.

“The S-waves that cause the shaking and damage travel more slowly, so unless you’re at the centre of the earthquake, you can get a warning of what is coming."

The Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) Survey for New Zealand is open now at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/EEWNZ and closes at 5pm on 30 April.

This research is funded by EQC, with support from Resilience to Nature’s Challenges, the Strategic Science Investment Fund, the Alpine Fault Magnitude 8 (AF8) initiative and QuakeCoRE. It is also part of the research collaboration between NZ, Japan and the US.

EQC funds $16 million of research each year to support its mission of reducing the impact of natural disasters on people and property.

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