David Nabhan
Tectonic Shifts

Israel’s Earthquake Warning System in Service 2019

Israel this year joins a growing number of seismically active nations with an EEW system (Earthquake Early Warning). Israel’s 120-station line of seismic detectors, Truah Project, runs along a 400 kilometer length of the Dead Sea Rift from Eilat, the seaport on the Red Sea, north to the Golan Heights.

The United States, Mexico, Turkey, Japan, Romania and Taiwan already have such systems in place; Israel’s Truah is expected operational in 2019.

EEW systems are just what seismologists have told the world we’d never see: flawlessly accurate warnings of a seismic assault definitely in the future, just that this particular future only seconds or moments away. It’s a form of heretical earthquake prediction, but yet a heresy that nonetheless works perfectly. Having spent the last twenty-three years publishing four books and dozens of articles and papers holding the “earthquake prediction is impossible” orthodoxy up for better inspection, it’s especially gratifying to bring this news to the attention of a wide audience.

However close Truah’s methods perform to sacrilegious earthquake prediction, the heresy nonetheless works perfectly. The way an EEW system works is by emplacing sensors directly on well-known and dangerous fault lines—along the Dead Sea Transform, for example, running the entire length of Israel’s eastern border. When a large earthquake strikes these sensors instantly detect the very first P-waves (primary waves) of the tremor.

Once the EEW system’s switches have been flipped by the P-waves, warning signals immediately are broadcast to cities which lie in the path of the onrushing earthquake.  This competition between the destructive seismic waves of the temblor and humankind’s signaling ability isn’t a fair contest at all. Seismic waves travel some three to four kilometers per second—certainly fast, the speed of a streaking missile—but nothing compared to racing against Truah’s velocity: light-speed.

Truah and Israeli cities at risk will win this one every time.

So, for example, if a large earthquake should take place on the Dead Sea Rift some 50 kilometers away from U Michaeli Airport, or the operating theaters at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, the screaming electronic bulletin that an earthquake is definitely on the way with arrive in the command centers of those facilities, along with causing untold numbers of personal cell phones to ping an alarm as well, some fourteen seconds before the S-waves (secondary and/or sheer waves) of the earthquake arrive on the scene.

If the epicenter is further away, the warning is delivered with even more time to spare.

Fourteen seconds may not seem like much, but it’s more than enough time to wave off a passenger jet making an approach into an airport, to engage emergency valves and switches in gas, electrical, water and other utilities infrastructure, to cause surgeons preparing to engage in extremely delicate operations to put the scalpels away for the moment.

Israel may not garner as much attention as a great a center of seismic activity as do Japan, California, Chile, Sichuan, or Tibet. She does lie astride, however, one of the great tectonic boundaries on the planet. The Arabian Plate and the African Plate—two stupendously gigantic continental sections of the Earth’s crust—meet and slowly grind past each other here. Usually the colossal forces contending beneath the ground manage their continental creep with only minor tectonic jolts. From time to time, however, these two massive sections of real estate get hung up and stuck, allowing great pressures to build up. An earthquake is the inevitable result as the previously locked plates eventually snap past each other once again, making up in an instant all the distance lost while held tight.

Over the last two-thousand years there have been several dozens of devastating earthquakes to have wracked Israel. In 31 BC, some 30,000 people were killed in a large tremor which struck the Jordan Valley. In 1068 AD a great earthquake near Ramla caused 20,000 fatalities. The 1927 Jericho Earthquake killed hundreds of people in Jerusalem, Jericho, Tiberias and Nablus.

There will come a next destructive earthquake to the Levant. Now, however, with Israel prepared as well as any of the most modern and sophisticated nations, her citizens will be caught less unawares than in previous seismic assaults.

About the Author
David Nabhan is a science and science fiction writer. He is the author of "Earthquake Prediction: Dawn of the New Seismology" (2017) and three other books on seismic forecasting.
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