Earthquake Warning System Used by BART Could Have Broader Applications

August 25, 2014 18:00 pm · 19 comments

A new earthquake early warning system in testing since 2012 has helped BART keep trains running in the event of an earthquake and could have broader applications for the public, officials said today.

The new system can give BART up to 10 seconds of notice before an earthquake, enough time to stop a train going 30 mph and significantly slow a train going 70 mph, preventing derailments, injuries and deaths, BART Director John McPartland said at a news conference at the agency’s Embarcadero station in San Francisco this afternoon.

McPartland said the system operated as intended before a 6.0-magnitude quake hit at 3:20 a.m. Sunday and caused significant destruction in Napa and Vallejo. BART trains were not running at the time of the quake, however, necessitating no action by the transit agency.

The system has applications beyond warning BART of impending earthquakes and Richard Allen of the University of California at Berkeley Seismological Laboratory called today for state or federal funding that would create a public early warning system.

Allen said that such a system could have many applications. While it could not give more than seconds of warning, it could be enough to stop motorists from driving onto a bridge, slow down traffic or even inform an eye surgeon that it’s time to stop.

He urged California residents to contact legislators to help secure funding for the system, which could alert the public through cellphones, computers or even smoke detector-like devices.

“This is a critical need here in earthquake country,” Allen said.

The state Legislature passed a bill that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last September calling for California’s Office of Emergency Services to develop an early warning system, but said funding for the system could not come from the state’s general fund and would have to come from other sources.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, said in a statement today that two bills moving through Congress could send resources for an early warning system.

“An earthquake early-warning system would provide crucial time to carry out lifesaving actions,” Feinstein said. “A warning of even a handful of seconds would allow for emergency notifications to be sent; trains and traffic to be slowed or stopped; supplies of oil, gas and chemicals to be turned off; nuclear plants to be safeguarded; even elevators to be safely emptied.”

Allen said that the system can detect small amounts of energy radiating from epicenters prior from the quake. Sensors all over California stream data into the system, which can detect the energy and send an early alert.

Officials from the U.S. Geological Survey said today that the test system provided a five-second warning before Sunday’s quake hit, and within three seconds had estimated the magnitude of the quake to be 5.7.

BART’s use of the system is the first of its kind for a transit agency as it remains in testing, but BART officials said today that it is only a part of a massive seismic retrofit project that has improved earthquake safety systemwide over the last decade.

Bay Area voters approved a $980 million bond in 2004 to fund the safety improvements and today BART has completed work on 24 of the agency’s 34 stations and 70 of its 74 miles of tracks.

BART officials said today that the work has paid off — no earthquake-related disruptions were reported on BART Sunday, while Amtrak tracks through the Capitol Corridor were closed for the morning and early afternoon for track inspections and Caltrain reported delays throughout the morning.

BART Director James Fang called it a “magnificent indication” of what the nearly $1 billion bond was used for.

BART also recently completed retrofit work on the Transbay Tube including flexible seismic joints, transition structures and structural upgrades.

McPartland said today that the tube under the Bay is one of the safest places in the BART system in the event of an earthquake.

“That thing is just as solid as you can get,” he said.

Anon August 25, 2014 at 6:09 PM

You know Feinstein. If your against something of hers, she’ll call you a Nazi.

godfather Said August 25, 2014 at 7:26 PM

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste….”

Hey we have this legislation and campaign contributors who could profit from it . . . . . . .

SKS August 25, 2014 at 9:33 PM

Here comes another round of new, updated, and revised seismic standards…..

It’s too bad most voters don’t understand what a “bond” is. They say “Great idea!” without a clue on the funding mechanism(s). $980 million can cost upwards of $1.3 billion after all the debt service (principle plus interest).

Anon August 25, 2014 at 9:49 PM

“or even inform an eye surgeon that it’s time to stop.”

Well crap, now I have a new reason to chicken out of Lasik surgery!

@ SKS. #3-----A bond is simply borrowing money to spend now, to be repaid later, just like financing a home or car August 25, 2014 at 10:16 PM

Did no one ever explain to you how much interest you pay on that nice, shiny car/truck you just bought, or how much interest you pay on a mortgage?

That is One Slow Thief August 25, 2014 at 10:28 PM

Yeah, I’d liked to see if BART actually had to employ the above. CROCK.

That is One Slow Thief August 25, 2014 at 10:34 PM

Let’s see; BART trains don’t function well at all but they have a 1 billion dollar bond to spend on earthquake safety. amazing.

Jojo potato August 25, 2014 at 11:26 PM

It’s not clear that a 5 second warning is always such a good idea. For example at that restaurant in Napa five seconds may have been just enough time for panicked diners to rush out and get clobbered by falling bricks. The money would be better spent fixing up buildings and bridges. Besides which I have a very bad feeling that BART would screw it up somehow. We need to keep things simple for those folks.

funny man August 26, 2014 at 12:51 AM

you gott bigger problems to worry about if youre eye surgeon is workin on you at 3:20am (most likely from his basement)
thanks obamacare

Teacher Wannabe August 26, 2014 at 6:42 AM

@ That is one slow thief. I don’t knlw about you, but in the almost 20 years I’ve been riding BART I rarely have problems. Nothing is absolutely perfect, so your “trains don’t function well at all” comment is a gross exaggeration.

@Jojo Potato, any idiot who runs outside during an earthquake deserves to get clobbered. 5 sec.would give drivers (BART or otherwise) a chance to stop (as mentioned in the story). In a building, that 5 sec. Cluld give someone time to take cover.

Pyrrhus August 26, 2014 at 9:17 AM

@10 Don’t bother debating with these people. They are self hating Californians that say they want to live in Arizona but really don’t.

Anyone that says BART doesn’t run well obviously doesn’t take BART on a daily basis. Yes, there are occasionally delays and trains do break down. Please show me a transit system that doesn’t have these issues. BART has a 94% on time rate using trains that are over 30 years old. Compare at New York’s subway system which is considered the best in the United States. They have some lines that are only on time for 55% of the time.

Fact Pointer Outer August 26, 2014 at 11:02 AM

This system is already in place in fire houses. When they get the 10 second alert the doors of the firehouses open and lock so that the fire trucks aren’t stuck inside behind a buckled steel door or a bent frame.

BART riders are in greater danger August 26, 2014 at 3:51 PM

from the Filth and Pestilence on the trains than they are from any earthquake spend money where it’s really needed….

That is One Slow Thief August 26, 2014 at 4:09 PM

Excuse me, but I’ve been riding BART since 1975 and I ride it everyda. You are the ones that don’t ride BART regularly. You must be in BART Management. The system SUCKS. It was much better in 1975 when it was actually MANAGED.

That is One Slow Thief August 26, 2014 at 4:30 PM
That is One Slow Thief August 26, 2014 at 5:42 PM

This is a weekly occurrence these days.
BART service has stopped between Walnut Creek and Concord on the Pittsburg/Bay Point Line in the Pittsburg / Bay Point and SFO directions due to an equipment problem on the track near Pleasant Hill station.

Follow us on Twitter @sfbart for news and @sfbartalert for automated service advisories.

One Click Unsubscribe • Modify Account • Help
Bay Area Rapid Transit • 300 Lakeside Dr., Oakland, CA 94612 •

That is One Slow Thief August 26, 2014 at 5:43 PM

$48 million dollars very well spent between Walnut Creek and PH for that change over ! Please spend the Water Bond on WATER! Don’t throw away any more money on BART for nothing in return.

Jojo Potato August 26, 2014 at 6:13 PM

@ Pyrrhus : you mean like how great BART is running righ now? ROTFL!!

Teacher Wannabe August 26, 2014 at 7:29 PM

@Pyrrhus, you’re right. No point I arguing.

@That is one slow thief. I get the BART updates by text & email, but thanks for the suggestion.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: