Lesson From Japan: Tsunami Warnings Via Mobile Phones

Originally published on October 21, 2011 5:28 pm

SEATTLE – A tsunami expert from Japan shared this advice at a meeting of West Coast emergency planners and earthquake scientists Friday: make greater use of mobile phones to spread tsunami warnings.

More than a hundred disaster planners gathered in Seattle to parse the lessons from last March's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Japan has the world's most advanced earthquake warning system. It's so fast that sometimes a text alert reaches cellphone owners before the ground even starts shaking where they are.

Emergency planners from the American West hope to eventually have something similar, but also offer caveats about relying on mobile phones. Cell coverage along the Northwest coast can be spotty. The network might crash under the crush of a mass alert.

The director of the West Coast and Alaska Tsunami Warning Center, Paul Whitmore, says you're more likely to see upgrades on many notification fronts.

"I don't think there's one silver bullet that is going to make the whole thing work," Whitmore says. "There's improvements to the Emergency Alert System. There's the NOAA weather radio. There's internet-based messaging, like these text messages people can get. There's websites. There's social media."

The West Coast Tsunami Warning Center now offers email or mobile text bulletins, but you have to take the initiative to sign up for it.

On the Web:

West Coast and Alaska tsunami warning bulletins:


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