Earthquake warning alarm could help NZers brace for impact

  • 17/02/2018

Researchers are hopeful an early earthquake warning system could give New Zealanders precious time to prepare before a disaster.

The Earthquake Commission (EQC) is providing $61,000 in research funding to support the mission.

Other countries already using the system, including Japan, Mexico and parts of the United States, get a warning up to two minutes before shaking hits. Because of New Zealand's geography, the maximum warning time would be one minute.

But GNS Science team leader Julia Becker says even a short heads-up could make all the difference.

"During that time you might be able to do something useful like switching off the railway for example, or if you're a member of the public you might be able to drop, cover and hold.

"So that's kind of essentially the elements of the earthquake early warning system.

"You get two types of waves that come from the earthquake. So you have a P-wave and an S-wave.

"The P-wave arrives first. It's this P-wave that can help us give a little bit of a warning of the shaking that's coming."

For people situated closer to an earthquake's epicentre, the alarm could come only seconds before.

Ms Becker says it will only be useful if New Zealanders trust the science.

"From a public perspective, I guess we're not really sure how people might respond when they receive a warning - whether they actually drop, cover and hold or whether they so something else.

"So we're just trying to figure out a little bit about people's responses."

The study will take around two years.