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China reduces casualties with quake warnings via social media

In race against the shockwave, Chinese earthquake research institute sends out warnings nine seconds after detecting the January 5 quake, giving the city of Chengdu with 14 million people a 15-second heads up.
Written by Liu Jiayi, Contributor

Last Friday’s quake jolted Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, where over 14 million people live, and also Deyang and its surrounding areas--all of which were severely damaged during the 2008 quake. The Chengdu Institute of Care-life, a local earthquake research and warning organization, managed to send two warning messages to its Weibo site, the Chinese version of Twitter.
According to the institute’s director Wang Tun, the warning system automatically goes online and sends messages as soon as five seconds after any of its 200 detectors--covering an area of over 20,000 square kilometres--pick up a shockwave.
At present, with less than 1,000 online followers and a little over 100 tweets, the warning system only covers the metropolitan area of Chengdu. But Wang still believes even a few seconds of "heads up" will make a huge difference in case of a devastating quake.
"The warning is a race against the shockwave, the more seconds we win, the fewer lives would be lost," said Wang. "Our system not only tells you the magnitude of the earthquake, but also how soon it will affect where you live, so people can react accordingly as soon as possible."
Casualties could go down by 14 percent if there were a 3-second warning before the quake hit, and this reduction in casualties will rise to 39 percent for 10 seconds and 63 percent for 20, according to an earlier reported statistic.
"There are over one billion registered users on two major Chinese social websites, the Sina Weibo and the Tencent Weibo," said Wang. "It is now technologically practical to warn people of imminent quakes via social media."

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