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Israel adds “earthquakes” to the army’s early warning system

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Sirens were sounded in several Israeli cities on Monday – but not to warn residents of the rocket fire, as they often do. This time it was an exercise to alert them to a possible earthquake.

Sirens are usually set off by missile defences, and will now also sound if a national network of 120 seismic stations detects a strong earthquake.

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Seismic waves appear on a screen during a demonstration of a new earthquake early warning system that sounds a siren if a national network of 120 seismic monitoring stations detects a strong earthquake, at the Israel Geological Survey in Jerusalem, February 7, 2022

(Photo: Reuters)

It may take some time to get used to it. Instead of just the siren meaning “run into a bomb shelter” this time, the siren was accompanied by the word “earthquake” repeated over the speakers. He noted that open areas are the safest.

Early warning systems can be found in a few countries, such as Japan or along the west coast of the United States. What stands out in Israel is the role of the army, whose forward command is well practiced in alerting the public to emergencies through sirens and targeted text messages.

Authorities say the warning could be a few seconds or half a minute long, depending on the distance from the epicenter, but even those moments can save lives.

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A worker demonstrates a new earthquake early warning system that sounds a siren if a national network of 120 seismic monitoring stations detects a strong earthquake at the Israel Geological Survey in Jerusalem, February 7, 2022

(Photo: Reuters)

The Dead Sea Fault, which runs between Israel and Jordan, is known for its seismic activity. Large earthquakes occur in the region about every 100 years, said Itay Korzon, a seismologist and project manager at the Israel Geological Survey, so timing is key.

The system has been operating offline for more than a year, but when two relatively small earthquakes struck northern Israel last month, things accelerated, he said.

The Geological Survey monitors seismic activity around the clock, and if an earthquake of at least a magnitude of 4.5 is detected, the military is immediately notified and the public is warned.

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A worker stands next to an antique seismograph during a demonstration of a new earthquake early warning system that sounds a siren if a national network of 120 seismic stations detects a strong earthquake at the Israel Geological Survey in Jerusalem, February 7, 2022

(Photo: Reuters)

It is simple but with limitations.

Curzon said there was a “blind zone” in the area 25 kilometers (15 miles) from the quake’s starting point.

In the event of a serious earthquake around the northern Dead Sea, for example, neighboring communities would have no warning. In Jerusalem, which is just outside the blind area, people will receive an alert 4-5 seconds before the shock wave occurs. Tel Aviv, 60 km to the west, will have 21 seconds to prepare.

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