Earthquake Early Warning System Saves Hundreds in Sichuan

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Earthquake Early Warning System Saves Hundreds in Sichuan
Wang Hao is inventor of China’s earthquake early warning system. Image courtesy Southern Weekend+

11 years after the tragedy of Wenchuan, a 6.0 magnitude earthquake hit Sichuan Province again last night. This time however, tragedy has found a hero, in the form of one man who, after Wenchuan, dedicated himself to developing China’s earthquake early warning system that last night saved hundreds of lives.

At 22:55 on 17 June, 2019, the Continental Earthquake Early Warning Network warned Changning County of Yibin City 10 seconds in advance of the quake hitting the area. Many other places in Sichuan were also issued early warnings through audible alarms, television and text messages. Among them, the Sichuan capital of Chengdu received early warning 61 seconds in advance, meaning that over 180 schools and 110 communities were alerted in time for people to find refuge.

Apart from Chengdu, other citizens in Leshan, Ya’an and Deyang also received the earthquake warning via their TV sets and text messages. The content of such included a count down, saying, “A 6.0 magnitude earthquake will take place in Changning; the tremor shall occur in approximately 10 seconds”.

Unsurprisingly, local netizens found the alarming system “really useful”; in just a few seconds, many people were saved. Some residents in Changning reported that once they received the warning online, they ran out of the building and stayed in the clear, waiting for rescue. Xinhua News reports showed that professional rescue forces reached the spot in about half an hour.

That so many people were saved from injury or even fatality is all down to the creator of this system, Wang Hao, Director of both the Sichuan Key Laboratory of Earthquake Early Warning and the Chengdu Institute of High-tech Disaster Reduction. Shocked by scenes of the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, he generated the idea of returning home to focus on early warning system research. “Even with just 10 seconds of warning, people have more chances to escape and reduce casualties”, he commented.

Wang was speaking with China Youth Net and went on to say, “As a Sichuan local, we should do something for our hometown”. From that moment in 2008, he began to search for information related to earthquake early warning technology, only to find that such only was present in Japan and a few other countries. He set about doing research with his team in Chengdu right after the Wenchuan quake.

Wang Hao explained, “If the alarm arrives 3 seconds in advance of the quake, the number of casualties can be reduced by 14 percent; 10 seconds in advance, 39 percent; if the Wenchuan earthquake were to occur again with the early warning system, the number of deaths might be reduced by 20,000, to 30,000”.

At present, 79 counties in Sichuan Province’s most quake-prone areas have already set up TV and mobile phone early warning services, accounting for 60 percent of Sichuan’s total earthquake are. While some small towns are not yet covered by the system, Sichuan remains the first and only province in China to now benefit from earthquake warning, benefits which last night were all too plain to see.

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Kristen Wang
A Nanjing local, Kristen studied Media and Public relations in Newcastle University (UK), has researched social media and online publishing and previously worked for different new media platforms. She is passionate about discovering new stories and helping expats involved in this city. 南京人Kristen毕业于纽卡斯尔大学,媒体与公共关系硕士学位。她的研究专注于社交媒体和网络发行,在不同的新媒体平台工作。她喜欢发现新鲜事,也希望帮助在南京的外国人融入这里的生活。