Seattle Earthquake Early Warning Detector Now Online

You have probably heard all about the Japan Earthquake Early Warning System system. If not, the prior link has a great article on the subject. Unfortunately, the United States has nothing like this. It might be coming soon, but in the meantime, we are all flying blind here.

After the Japanese earthquake, I begin to look around for some equipment to do the same. I first turned to a company called Seismic Warning Systems, who has yet to return any of my inquires to purchase hardware. So, I had to set my sights a little lower for the commonly available Quake Alarm. After connecting it to an Arduino, writing a python script, and scanning for the first sign of a P-Wave, and filtering out local vibrations, I am proud to say that we have not seen one false positive! We have not had an earthquake to test with, but after simulating a P-Wave by slowly oscillating an exterior wall, I am quite certain that it will work just fine.

Originally, the system used an iPhone app to push notifications at the moment a quake was detected. It turns out, the Apple notification system has very, very low latency, ranging from 0 to 2 seconds (Up to 2 seconds if the device display is off in standby mode). I wrote a nice little app to provide notifications, but this proved to be not ideal. First, I would have to deal with the AppStore approval and maintenance of an application, and second, I would be leaving out a chunk of users.

The system I have put online uses traditional SMS notifications through an SMS aggregator I use. The delay is usually very low, so its a close second to iPhone alerts. I have had a few folks on this system testing it, and I think I am ready to open this up for anyone else interested.

If you want quake early warnings, visit this link to sign up.

Note that this thing isn’t going to go off with one of those little quakes, but you may see notifications on 5.0 and larger. You know, the ones you might want a little warning before hand.

Since I only have one sensor (anyone else want to put one up?), I cannot provide estimated arrival time, intensity, and likelyhood of advance notice. If the quake happens close to you, but far from my sensor, you may not see any advanced warning.

UPDATE Oct 17, 2011: Software and hardware guide now on GitHub!

8 Responses to “Seattle Earthquake Early Warning Detector Now Online”

  1. craSH says:

    I signed up but haven’t gotten any SMS (it’s been an hour or two) - any ideas? Sounds like fun, and I’d be down with housing a sensor unit as well in North Capitol Hill in our basement.

    Are you familiar with the Earthquake Notification System[1]? They do similar alerts, and you can volunteer to house a sensor for them as well with their “NetQuakes” program[2].


  2. admin says:

    craSH, as a cost measure, you will not receive a confirmation. Let’s touch base soon and I will let you know what is required if you are looking to host a sensor.

    The official USGS alerts system is delayed by a few minutes. While it is completely useless providing early warning, the system does provide epicenter location and magnitude….both of which are useless if your house is falling on you ;)

    I have not heard of the NetQuakes program, but sounds interesting. I have just the spot for it too.

  3. Diego says:

    Hi, could you share the phyton script i own a quakealarm too on Chile if you have some walktrough to make this possible could be really good for us here.


  4. admin says:

    @diego Good idea — i’ll write up some sort of howto and publish the code and setup that drives this all.

  5. Diego says:

    Hi, thanks for the manual, i just see this today, so im going to start building it. =) I will let you know how it goes.

  6. Diego says:

    I have only one dobut about the scripts you are using to detect it, i want to tweet each warning in out account, and im not to familiar with coding for arduino, do you have some sample to start messing around? Or i have to test it on the sample you send? Thanks again for your support!

  7. Smartassism says:

    You’re probably aware of the false alarms from this setup over the last few days in the early morning. Nothing is officially reported at those times anyway:

    Specifically, 2011-05-19 I noticed your system send out 4 SMS messages between 3:30 and 4:20 AM, and 9 messages on the 20th between 6:45 and 9:45 AM.

    Just curious… what the heck was going on so early in the AM to set this thing off?

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