As the only UN agency with a mandate in Earth Sciences, UNESCO has been very active in promoting international cooperation, scientific knowledge exchange and capacity building for the development and implementation of geo-hazard Early Warning Systems, including Earthquake Early Warning Systems (EEWS), worldwide. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 recognises the need to “substantially increase the availability of, and access to, multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments to the people by 2030” as one of its global targets (target “g”). While considerable progress has been made in recent decades in the field of early warning, Early Warning Systems are generally less developed for geo-hazards and significant challenges remain in advancing the development of Early Warning Systems for specific hazards, particularly for sudden-onset hazards such as earthquakes.
An earthquake early warning system (EEWS) helps in disseminating timely information about potentially catastrophic earthquake hazards to the public, emergency managers and the private sector to provide enough time to implement automatized emergency measures. At the same time, these systems help to reduce considerably the CO2 emissions produced by catastrophic impacts and subsequent effects of earthquakes, such as those generated by fires, collapses, and pollution (among others), as well as those produced in the recovery and reconstruction processes. In addition, EEWS can be better considered in risk management, emergency planning, disaster management, climate change adaptation, and risk communication in order to reduce Natech risks.
Such a system is based on state of the art technology using rapid telemetric analysis of the initial seismic waves generated by an earthquake, detected from a dense network of seismic sensors. In the recent years, EEWS have been developed independently in a few countries. EEWS have been operational in Japan and Mexico, while other areas such as California (USA), Turkey, Italy, Canada, Republic of Korea and China are in development stages or under restricted applications. Many other countries such as those in the Indian Subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, Eastern Africa, Southeast Africa, as well as Central America, South America and the Caribbean are situated in some of the largest and most seismically active regions of the world, or with moderate seismicity but with high vulnerability, and would strongly benefit from the development of an operational EEWS.
Given that, in many instances, the development of an EEWS still requires further testing, increased density coverage in seismic observation stations, regional coordination, and further scientific understanding, there is a strong need to enhance the technical and operational capacities required for these systems and to further understand the implications for policy.
In December 2015, UNESCO’s Section on Earth Sciences and Geo-Hazards Risk Reduction launched the International Platform on Earthquake Early Warning Systems (IP-EEWS). The following ten countries are already represented in the Platform through leading scientific experts from top institutions:
- China (China Earthquake Administration and Institute of Care Life),
- Germany (GFZ - German Research Centre for Geosciences),
- Italy (University of Naples Federico II),
- Japan (Meteorological Research Institute),
- Mexico (Centro de Instrumentacion y Registro Sismico),
- Romania (National Institute for Earth Physics),
- Spain (Universidad Complutense de Madrid),
- Switzerland (ETH - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich),
- Turkey (Kandili Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute, Boğaziçi University), and
- United States of America (University of California Berkeley, and USGS).
IP-EEWS builds on the extensive network and scientific reputation that UNESCO has gained in helping nations foster earthquake resilience. Likewise, UNESCO has been a catalyst for international, inter-disciplinary cooperation in many aspects of disaster risk reduction and mitigation. UNESCO leads the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission and several international and intergovernmental scientific programmes (including, the International Hydrological Programme, and the International Geosciences and Geoparks Programme), which have successfully implemented early warning systems for tsunami, floods and droughts.