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The terrifying scenes of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Northern Japan last March are still fresh in our minds. It was reported that there were more than 15,000 deaths, 5,000 injured victims and 4,000 missing persons.

But despite these staggering numbers, there looms a silver lining as Japan’s earthquake early-warning system has been vastly improved.

On that fateful day, the system gave out early-warning signals before the magnitude 9 earthquake hit. And this saved the lives of thousands of Japanese people around the epicenter.

In a recent article in Time magazine, it was explained that the system is the most sophisticated earthquake-warning system in the world.

Launched in 2007, the system can detect tremors, calculate where the earthquake’s epicenter is located and send brief warnings to people from its 1000-plus seismographs installed all over Japan.

The warning is sent to different target places such as factories, schools, TV networks, radio stations and even to people with mobile phones.

In the same article, it was stated that there are two phases of an earthquake.

The first is called the P-waves (P for primary). The P-waves have fast and short wavelengths that cause very little damage.

These are later followed by the S-waves in the second phase. These waves are destructive as these can cause building to collapse, landslides to occur and tsunamis to churn out at sea and bring strong giant waves to land.

The early-warning signal is automatically sent when P-waves are recorded.

The reach of this system, which is run by Japan’s National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention, has been expanded to include Apple devices such as iPhones, iPod Touch and iPad.

With this development, it is expected that more lives would be saved when the disaster strikes.

But the tsunami early-warning system is different from the earthquake-warning system.

Tsunami warnings take longer because more calculations are needed. Like in this recent disaster, it was estimated that it took 15 minutes for the early warning signal to reach the residents of the tsunami affected areas.

There are good and bad things in such situation. People tend to focus more on the bad things because, I guess, these are more interesting to talk about.

But I believe the survival of human species in the event of a cataclysmic disaster depends much on our ability to  turn every tragedy into an opportunity to come up with better early- warning systems and equipment.


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