Salt Lake City (KUTV) –
The state may investigate an earthquake detection system, giving “tens of seconds” before it feels the ground move. You might call it a groundbreaking technology – quite literally.
The Utah Seismic Safety Commission voted Thursday to recommend seeking $150,000 in state funds for a “feasibility study” on the system.
“There is a new technology called earthquake early warning,” said Dr. Keith Cooper, director of U of U Seismograph Stations. “After an earthquake occurs, it’s a system that can recognize that an earthquake has already occurred, and actually deliver a message to the public and various stakeholders, before the big tremor.”
Cooper, the commission’s chair, said the system could be costly — tens of millions to build, and millions more to operate. Another panel member told 2News that this would involve seismographs sending signals to servers, which could push alerts to your phone.
More: August 31st, a 4.7 magnitude Nevada earthquake was felt as far away as Salt Lake
A cheaper way, according to Cooper, is to have lots of cell phones hooked up to buildings.
“Everyone’s smartphone, believe it or not, is a seismometer,” he said. “It has a small accelerometer (a device that can measure vibrations) inside, and you can actually use your phone to record the vibration. You can just imagine using cell phones that are attached to different buildings… Then if you can record fast enough the vibration, you can tell that the earthquake has started.” …you won’t necessarily need the most sought-after seismographs.”
Chief Marketing Officer Garrick Dean told 2News he had a “20 to 25” earthquake, grew up in Southern California and lived in his downtown Salt Lake apartment with his wife and daughter at the time of the 5.7 Magna earthquake.
He recounted that he got out of his building when the ground moved here in March 2020.
“The garage structure, the staircase we had was still shaking when we got out of our apartment,” he said.
Dean said he supports the idea of an early warning system, although the cost — if an expensive version — must be weighed against other state programs.
“I think any warning would be better than none,” said Julie Emery, a legal aid who lives miles from Magna, but said the March earthquake “felt like a truck crashed into the house.”
She also remembered being in a tall building in Los Angeles in the 1980s when an earthquake caused the structure to sway.
Marta Wood, an actress and professional voiceover, called the Magna earthquake in her Utah home a “little rumble,” but still believed an early warning system would be helpful—even with just a 10-second advance alert.
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