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Likelihood of organizations in the Los Angeles area implementing an earthquake early warning system


The probability that a strong earthquake will strike Southern California in the near future is high. Although the San Andreas Fault is the fault probably most familiar to people living in in the area, in reality four faults (San Andreas, San Jacinto, Elsinore, and Imperial) produce about half of the significant earthquakes in the region. Additionally, countless other known and unknown faults contribute to earthquake risk in the area. For decades, scientists and disaster experts have been working on developing an earthquake early warning system for Southern California that would provide approximately 10-90 seconds of warning that strong shaking is heading to the area, giving individuals and organizations the opportunity to take protective action before the shaking arrives. This dissertation study explores the potential uses of earthquake early warning by organizations and assesses the potential for implementation of an early warning system by organizations in the four sectors studied.

This study used a mix method approach. For the quantitative component of the study we conducted telephone interviews with 192 representatives of organizations in four institutional sectors which included education, emergency services, health care, and utilities and transportation. The qualitative component consisted of semi-structured interviews with three key informants from each of the same sectors. Findings from each component were then compared and combined to triangulate results as well as provide a fuller picture of potential uses, barriers to, and supportive factors for implementation of earthquake early warning by organizations in Southern California.

In general, support for implementing the earthquake early warning system by the organizations in the study was mixed. The best predictors of organizations being highly likely to implement earthquake early warning included low perceived financial barriers to implementation, high perceived risk from earthquakes, and belief that even 10 seconds of warning could reduce injuries in a major earthquake. Many key informants expressed interested in the system, but also enumerated many perceived barriers to its implementation at their organization.

Earthquake early warning has come a long way since the data were collected for this study, particularly in terms of communications technology and our ability to disseminate alerts to many individuals very quickly. However, many of the barriers identified in this study have not been addressed. Additionally, the new technology, messages, and mechanisms for warning individuals have not been evaluated. More research is needed if earthquake early warning is to be useful and feasible for use by organizations and businesses in Southern California.

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