Research & Development

Earthquake, Tsunami & Volcano Programs
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​What is Research and Development (R&D) in Regards to Earthquake Early Warning?

Earthquake early warning enables individuals to take protective actions, such as duck, cover, and hold on, and it can notify delicate-process facilities that may want to slow or stop sensitive operations to mitigate damage. R&D activities focus on establishing rapid alert dissemination channels and technologies and then integrating them into California’s infrastructure and industries.


1. Enhancing CEEWS performance in terms of speed, precision, and accuracy.
2. Identifying and developing dissemination channels for CEEWS alerts that are rapid and reliable.
3. Technical implementation of recommendations from the Communications, Education, Training, and Outreach (CETO) Working Group.
4. Connecting CEEWS to California’s infrastructure and industry through appropriate interfaces and practices to achieve loss prevention and risk mitigation.
5. Identifying needed standards to achieve reliability and interoperability within CEEWS.

Challenges to Full Implementation

A key consideration for R&D in the CEEWS design is “latency”, the time it takes to detect, characterize, and model earthquakes, and to deliver targeted alert messages to people at risk from impending earthquake shaking.

Historically, public alerting systems have been engineered for reliability and reach, but the speed of operation has rarely been considered a design priority. During the Cold War, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) was designed with the intention to disseminate a Presidential broadcast within 15 minutes. Local alerts, such as those from the National Weather Service (NWS), can presently deliver messages in a matter of minutes.

Earthquake early warnings are special because alert generation and delivery must occur within three seconds of initial earthquake detection. An inquiry by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) into the suitability of existing warning systems for EEW in 2016 determined that no currently deployed alert delivery technology could meet the criterion of a 3-second maximum latency in delivering an earthquake alert.

​Current Projects Under Development

One method under development to counteract latency is datacasting (data broadcasting). Datacasting utilizes extra bandwidth in digital TV signals and is currently used to transmit news, weather, traffic, and stock market information that may or may not be related to the program on TV at the time. This information can also be used to broadcast earthquake early warnings which can be utilized by companies and individuals with modest, specialized receiver equipment. Datacasting is a robust, high speed data delivery method that can provide an alternative to other methods like phone and internet.

Cal OES is involved with a multiyear project to develop datacasting to deliver warnings for earthquake early warning in California’s most populous areas. In 2016 and 2017, in partnership with America’s Public Television Stations (APTS) and with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and voluntary loans of equipment from datacast equipment manufacturers, public TV station KVIE in Sacramento, California conducted an experiment to determine requirements for very low-latency datacasts of alerts. This field trial, conducted in coordination with Cal OES, the FCC, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate, successfully demonstrated that datacasting can deliver detailed digital alerts through a digital TV station’s coverage area in less than three seconds. The trial offered the opportunity to make minor adjustments to the commercial datacasting software’s file management system that would be needed for successful delivery. The mid-term goal of this pilot is to provide signals to Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Sacramento through datacasting.

Demonstration alert receivers will be constructed and evaluated for purposes of automatic hazard mitigation and personal pre-notification of earthquake effects. Work focuses on the integration of datacast receivers with alert “presentation” systems and devices (audio, visual, tactile, or a combination thereof) and interconnection of CEEWS datacast receivers with local equipment controls (e.g., to automatically activate firehouse door openers or to slow down or delay delicate technical processes) as well as personnel notification devices.

The end-to-end process required to disseminate alerts from the seismic lab to end users through data casting.

Notification receivers and related devices may be implemented at the following:

  • Schools and Universities
  • Hospitals and health-care facilities
  • Fire and police stations
  • Delicate-process facilities such as integrated circuit fabricators and scientific laboratories
  • Utilities.


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