Japan launches earthquake warning system

Updated: 2006-08-01 10:57
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TOKYO - Japan launched an early warning system for earthquakes on Tuesday which would give emergency personnel and train operators a head start - albeit several seconds - before the actual tremors strike.

Trains could be stopped and workers at construction sites can take cover using the advance information, said the Meteorological Agency, which is in charge of the system.

The system would send alerts once it detects primary waves, or the first waves of an earthquake that do not cause major rattling, but travel faster than secondary waves that are responsible for shaking.

The warning could precede the shaking by about 10-20 seconds and would also include the expected intensity of the tremor, but the grace period would be much shorter and in some cases none, if the focus of the tremor is close by, an agency official said.

The network kicked off with 41 institutions, including railway companies, construction firms, factories and hospitals, to avoid panic among the general public who may not understand the system, the agency said.

"We will work to spread understanding about the alert system so that we can provide information widely to the public as soon as possible", the agency official said.

The system has been running for a test period of over two years since February 2004 and the agency is aiming to implement the system nationwide by the end of March next year.

Japan is one of the world's most seismically active areas, and the country accounts for about 20 percent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.

In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the northern prefecture of Niigata, killing about 40 people and injuring more than 3,000.

A high-speed bullet train, renowned for a record of being free of major accidents, was derailed for the first time when it was hit by the quake, although there were no fatalities.