New technologies merge for public safety

Real-time data helps predict extreme weather event

SAN DIEGO - Roads looked like raging rivers in Ocotillo last July, and thanks to new technology developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the National Weather Service office in San Diego and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, forecasters were able to warn people 12 hours in advance.

"We've been working on the GPS project for about 20 years," said Dr. Yehuda Bock of Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

In the last two years, they've been adding small, inexpensive seismic and meteorological sensors to existing GPS systems throughout Southern California. The sensors provide continuous real-time data.

"Compared to the weather balloons that provide data once every 12 hours from just two locations," Bock added.

The data tells scientists how much water is in the air and where it's traveling, helping them forecast when and where flooding will be heaviest.

Additionally, the GPS sensors detect movement on the ground, which will help predict a tsunami, giving people 10 to 30 minutes warning.

The upgraded stations can also detect when the first seismic waves move through the ground, making it possible to predict when the slower secondary waves that cause the most shaking will arrive.

"Based on that information, we can very quickly, within seconds, determine what the magnitude of the earthquake is going to be," said Bock.

The alert gives San Diegans a warning of 30 seconds to two minutes.

Planning is now in the works to integrate at key locations such as hospitals.

At UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest, for example, they'll be able to shut down the elevators and give staff an early warning before a natural disaster such as an earthquake happens.

"Then you could certainly reduce damage and save lives," said Bock.

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