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Japan Uses Satellites to Track Disasters

February 10, 2007

TOKYO — Japan launched a satellite-based alert system Friday that will instantly send warnings of tsunamis and updates on volcanic activity to help speed evacuations, an emergency official said.

Japan consistently experiences about 10 percent of the world’s magnitude 6 or greater earthquakes, which if underwater can trigger tsunamis, according to Meteorological Agency data. The country also has 108 active volcanoes – about 10 percent of the world’s total.

Under the system, called “J-ALERT,” the nation’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency will immediately transmit warnings on tsunamis if an earthquake occurs. It will also issue alerts following signs of volcanic activity based on information from the Meteorological Agency to local authorities, said Fire and Disaster Management agency spokesman Takeshi Itoh. Information on strong earthquakes after they occur will also be sent, Itoh said.

The warnings will activate communication devices in the regions connected to the system, setting off sirens and voice advisories via radio, Itoh said.

In the initial stage, J-ALERT will be limited to 10 prefecture (state) governments and four cities.

Harley Benz, chief scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Center in Golden, Colo., said Friday the USGS does not have a specific alert system following earthquakes in the U.S., though the center does send out some 100,000 e-mail and pager alerts for every earthquake around the world.

The center also has access to the Emergency Broadcast System, the Department of Homeland Security and state and local officials in case of an emergency, Benz said, adding that there is currently no way to predict when an earthquake will strike.

Associated Press Chase Squires in Denver contributed to this report




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