Mobile Networks Seen Playing Key Role in Early Earthquake Warnings

Telecommunications and public safety officials are moving forward on efforts to deploy a system to use mobile networks to broadcast early earthquake warnings to cellphones in potentially affected areas, according to speakers on a webcast organized by the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS).

During a discussion on “Early Earthquake Warning System Notifications: Leveraging the Power of the Commercial Cellular Network,” Mark Johnson, branch chief of the earthquake and tsunami program at the California Office of Emergency Services, noted that California is working on such a system. The next steps in the process involve scheduling workshops with various partners in the process, Mr. Johnson said. 

“Today we’re kicking off telecom coordinations with the private sector,” including ATIS, he said.  “Eventually, we’ll need to bring in all the partners to talk through what the vision is, as well as what the capabilities are to work through.”  Other discussions with utilities, railroads, and other sectors will follow, he added. “There are many steps after today,”

Mr. Johnson said.  “This is a good first step.  We look forward to working with all the partners.” Brian Daly, director-core network & government and regulatory standards at AT&T, Inc., noted that ATIS had completed an early feasibility study on early earthquake warning notification systems.  Such a system would use broadcast by cellular network to cell phones in a specific geographic area. Early earthquake warnings are only effective when notifications can be sent through communications systems ahead of seismic waves, Mr. Daly noted.

The feasibility study found that the early earthquake warning system it was proposing would take three to four years to develop and deploy, Mr. Daly said.  The process would begin with developing new ATIS standards, updating mobile operators’ networks, designing new cell phones that can receive the warnings, educating the public, introducing the new phones, and deploying the interfaces to earthquake alert centers. Mr. Daly said the study estimated that it would take five to seven years before a “substantial number of cell network users will have early earthquake warning capabilities in their devices.” – Brian Hammond, brian.hammond@wolterskluwer.com