New PEER Report 2016/06: “California Earthquake Early Warning System Benefit Study”

PEER has just published Report No. 2016/06 titled “California Earthquake Early Warning System Benefit Study.” It was authored by Laurie A. Johnson, Sharyl Rabinovici, Grace S. Kang, and Stephen A. Mahin.  This report is published jointly with the California Seismic Safety Commission and is CSSC Report 16-04.

Visit the PEER publications page to download a free color pdf of the document.

Executive Summary excerpt:

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) in partnership with the Alfred E. Alquist Seismic Safety Commission (SSC) engaged the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER) to independently explore the anticipated value of a statewide earthquake early warning system (EEWS) to the state’s economy and infrastructure. As detailed in Section 1 of the report, since 2013, Cal OES has been leading a public-private partnership to develop a statewide EEWS. The capital cost to construct and launch a statewide EEWS is estimated at $28 million, and the personnel and operating expenses are estimated at $17 million annually.

In a six-month investigation, researchers conducted 18 semi-structured interviews with 24 organizations representing 14 important sectors of the state’s infrastructure and economy. The interviews focused on the perceived value of a statewide EEWS for each organization as well as specific types and settings for EEWS use that could benefit public and employee safety, business resiliency, and the protection of critical operations and assets that serve local communities and the economy. Information from the interviews was then consolidated and interpreted into this summary, which is primarily aimed at informing future study needed to quantitatively assess the costs and benefits of a statewide EEWS. More information about the organizations participating in the study and the study approach is provided in Section 2, as well as the appendices of the report.

The outcomes of the study include:

  • A list of 14 high potential application types for EEWS (Section 4);
  • Discussion of application potential for human-controlled versus automated implementation (Section 4);
  • An assessment of which applications are most relevant to which key sectors of the state’s infrastructure and economy (Section 4);
  • An assessment of which applications are most ripe for development and use (Section 4);
  • A brief scan of relevant current emergency response planning features of the organizations interviewed into which EEWS must fit (Section 5);
  • Detailed discussion of potential barriers to the implementation and use of a statewide EEWS (Section 6), and
  • Suggestions of knowledge needs and next steps towards a comprehensive cost-benefit study of a statewide EEWS (Section 7).

As reported in Section 3, organizations unanimously perceived the overall societal benefits from having a statewide EEWS as very high. A few seconds to tens of seconds of advance warning time could help thousands to possibly millions of people to take precautionary actions and Drop, Cover, and Hold On (DCHO) before strong shaking begins. However, given the limited warning response time that most California earthquake scenarios will provide, most interview participants tended to describe a simple EEWS broadcast notification that is widely disseminated (i.e., via cell phones) in order for the full societal benefit of life safety to be realized. Some also reasoned that implementing EEWS may have other major benefits by raising the level of personal and organizational awareness and preparedness for earthquakes, and reducing anxiety given the sudden onset of earthquakes.

There was also strong consensus that overall societal value can result from different sectors of the state’s economy and infrastructure having access to and making concrete use of a statewide EEWS. Section 4 reports on the many possible avenues for organizational use of an EEWS; however, to date, these uses are mostly hypothetical. Fourteen high-potential application types for EEWS were identified. On a fundamental level, they represent the potential uses of an early earthquake warning to change the movement of people, vehicles, machinery, and materials that are in motion.

The sectors unanimously perceived that the benefit value, both to society and individual organizations, comes first and foremost from those potential applications that provide for occupational safety, public safety in a particular facility, and general public safety. Most commonly, interviewees described the potential organization applications as human-controlled actions taken upon receipt of an earthquake early warning. A key group of beneficiaries would be employees in hazardous situations. Such applications have the potential to reduce injuries as well as the time required by organizations to address post-earthquake life-safety issues and complete life-safety assessments. A series of cascading benefits could help organizations to be more effective and efficient in post-earthquake situational assessment and response, which in turn may reduce organizational downtime, disruption, and economic interruptions.

In closing, many of the insights gathered in this study underscore and strengthen the objectives for a statewide EEWS as specified in the 2013 State legislation, as well as the California Earthquake Early Warning System Implementation Steering Committee and the U.S. Geological Survey’s implementation plans. However, in some instances, these insights challenge and necessitate a second look at some of the fundamental objectives and plans for system performance standards and protocols, development timeframes, governance and funding structures, education and training, and implementation timeframes, costs, and feasibility.

This study provides an important step forward in understanding the main types and avenues of benefits for a statewide EEWS and issues that need to be confronted for them to be realized. One of the most important next steps is to foster more systematic, varied, and deeper involvement with organizations that will be at the front lines of EEWS use. Collaborative study of system uses will in fact help create, shape, and bring both the applications and benefits of a statewide EEWS into reality.