November 5, 2005

Japan to launch quake warning system next year

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan, one of the world's most
earthquake-prone nations, plans to launch a seismic alert
system next year to capture early quake movements and issue
warnings of more damaging tremors, officials said on Saturday.

A test version of the system, operating in the northern
prefecture of Miyagi since February, was able to sound a
warning that a big earthquake would strike the city of Sendai
15 seconds before a 7.2 quake jolted the area on August 16, the
daily Asahi Shimbun said.

An official at the Japanese Meteorological Agency said
sensitive seismic sensors would be installed at 203 places
around the country by March 2006 before the system starts

"While it's true that the time between the warning and a
large earthquake striking is quite short, this would allow
people to turn off gas stoves or get under a table, while train
companies could halt trains," the Meteorological Agency
official told Reuters.

The sensors detect extremely small earthquake waves,
analyze them to predict whether more damaging movements will
follow later as well as how big the quakes might be, and then
automatically issue a warning.

Although the warnings will at first go only to certain
organisations such as train and gas companies, the agency hopes
eventually to alert ordinary citizens.

The official said problems still remained, most importantly
the difficulty of getting accurate information out quickly.

"Our fastest predictions may still be a bit rough, so there
might be differences between the strength of the quakes we
predict and the ones that actually hit. This is something we
have to refine," he said.

Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most
seismically active areas. The country accounts for about 20
percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8
struck the Niigata region in northern Japan, killing around 40
people and injuring more than 3,000.

That was the deadliest quake since a magnitude 7.3 tremor
hit the city of Kobe in 1995, killing more than 6,400.