Earthquake Web site to the rescue
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Jun 05, 2000
When the walls start shaking and the Earth starts quaking, most people run
But the staff members of the U.S. Geological Survey and the California
Institute of Technology's Seismological Laboratory hop into action to capture
data on a new, highly networked system of scientific instruments. They can
quickly create maps of a quake's intensity and coverage area that can be
posted on the Internet to help decision-makers direct emergency response
Following the magnitude 7.1 Hector Mine earthquake in California Oct.
16, 1999, the TriNet project a public/ private partnership based at Caltech produced an online "shake map" to help emergency response teams. Usage
of the TriNet site peaked at 300,000 hits following the
It used to take hours to create a map that indicated earthquake intensity,
said Douglas Given, a USGS geophysicist with the Earthquake Hazards Team
at the Caltech Seismological Laboratory. With TriNet, a fairly accurate
depiction of the earthquake's impact can be assembled and posted on the
Internet within five minutes. TriNet has been in development for about three
"With this information, emergency responders can know where to devote their
resources," he said.
Given spoke during a May 16 visit by academic researchers and government
information technology managers to the lab, based in Pasadena. The visitors
were part of the dg.o (DigitalGovernment.Org) 2000 workshop that highlighted National Science Foundation-funded research in technology to enable electronic
Besides the shake maps created using instrumental data, TriNet also
produces earthquake intensity maps based on information that the public
provides by filling out a form on a Web site. In the case of last year's
Hector Mine quake, one of these so-called "Did you feel it?" maps was created
based on responses from 25,856 users in 1,138 ZIP codes.
Although the ink-on-paper recorder rolls that track ground movement
are still associated with earthquake measurement, the scientists who time
and analyze seismic waves use far more advanced technology, said Karen Kahler,
a seismic analyst at the Caltech lab.
With TriNet, instruments continuously send ground motion data to the
Seismological Laboratory's computer systems via frame relay; the Internet;
spread-spectrum radio; frequency dedicated, VHF radio; and satellite networks.
At the laboratory, computers search data for indications of earthquake characteristics.
If an earthquake is detected, subscribers of the California USGS Broadcast
of Earthquakes system receive notification on their pagers. A message also
is automatically posted on the Internet.
"The hope is to create an early- warning system to halt trains, stop
elevators and automatically open fire station doors," Kahler said.