PBBM should procure our own Early Earthquake Warning System | Inquirer Opinion
Sharp Edges

PBBM should procure our own Early Earthquake Warning System

/ 05:14 AM January 09, 2024

Japan’s New Year’s Day Magnitude 7.5 quake in Ishikawa prefecture, Central Japan has killed 168 people with 100 more missing. This low number of casualties can be attributed to Japan’s calm citizens and their highly effective early earthquake warning system.  In 2011, Japan was hit with magnitude 9.1 quake and huge tsunamis, but overall casualties were tagged at 15,000. 

Compare this with Turkeys massive magnitude 7.6 in February last year, which killed more than 59,000 people. Both countries have multiple active faults and a history of catastrophe, but they have huge differences in disaster planning, management, and leadership. Turkey is a country with buildings of unreinforced brick or masonry aggravated by their non-compliance with an old building code. 

In Japan, there is a saying. Earthquakes don’t kill–bad buildings do.  They made seismic safety as a national priority, creating a seismic building code considered to be the most stringent in the world.  This was after their biggest tragedy in 1923 when Tokyo was hit by a magnitude 7.9 tremor killing 105,000 people. Within a year, they prioritized earthquake resistant construction and began creating seismic structural design.  There are three specific methods, first, beams, pillars and walls must be of minimum thickness to cope with shaking. Second, taller buildings should use dampers to absorb energy and third, these buildings should be isolated from the ground by layers of lead, steel, and rubber.


In the 2011 quake and tsunami, Tokyo’s high-rise buildings oscillated but did not fall and damage on the metropolis’ crowded areas was limited.  In the recent Central Japan quake, a seven-story building in Wajima city fell on its side and rescue operations continue. Many old wooden houses collapsed, and people were trapped inside. 


Our country’s strongest earthquake was magnitude 7.8 on midnight of August 7,1976, spawned a tsunami near Mindanao and Sulu killing more than 8,000 people. On August 2, 1968, the Casiguran quake hit Metro Manila and 270 people killed mostly from the toppled six story building Ruby tower in Binondo. Still fresh from memory is the July 16, 1990, magnitude 7.7 quake that killed 1,621 people mostly in Central Luzon and Cordillera region. And have we learned from these tragedies? How do we compare to Japan and Turkey?

As far as we know we have been preparing for the so called BIG ONE from the West Valley (Marikina) fault. This traverses Taguig, Muntinlupa, Paranaque, Pasig, Makati Quezon city, Marikina as well as Laguna Cavite and Bulacan.  A Metro Manila risk assessment study estimated that a Magnitude 7.2 earthquake could kill 48,000 people and inflict $48-B in economic losses.

So far, disaster awareness is solid, but are all our high-rise buildings safe?  Are all these structures seismically safe?  This data should be given to us by the proper authorities. Since 2021, around 425 public school buildings and bridges were retrofitted thru a World bank $300-M loan. But is it enough? 

In Japan, their early earthquake warning systems immediately issues “prompt alerts” of advanced earthquake information on all mobile phones simultaneous with radio and tv stations. This gives out a lifesaving window time from 5 to 50 seconds to all Japanese people to seek cover or escape from danger.  If it is a tsunami, a bright yellow warning flashes on all television screens or on mobile phones saying “RUN”.  For people running on high speed or subway trains, service is immediately suspended. 

These early warning systems estimate seismic intensities from the “preliminary tremors”- P-waves and S-waves and the expected arrival of the principal motion of the quake. However, because earthquakes are fast moving, advance information are very short or just a few seconds. And therefore, certain inaccuracies that occur. So, if an alert sounds off, what happens is that whether you are at home, office or you should drop everything and seek safety. If travelling by train or car, follow immediate protocols. 

On the other hand, another nation in the Ring of fire, Mexico has used for 30 years its Seismic Early warning System (SASMEX). And outside of the initial stages, it has not issued any false alerts and are now in full use in Mexico City and five other cities. It is slowly becoming a nationwide tool for civic protection at the national level.


Today, our PHIVOLCS does not have its own Earthquake alert system but only Monitoring and Information system. What we have is a Philippine Seismic Network that provides accurate and timely information and ensure the accessibility and integrity of its data.  They have more than ninety-two (92) Seismic network, and ten (10) seismic stations.  In June 2021, Google has included our country for mobile users to access their Global Android Earthquake Alerts System thru their Android mobile phone and has been a great help.  

With the serious threat of the Big One lurking, I believe it is now time to secure our very own Earthquake early warning system. From research, this will only cost our country from a little over and above $83-M dollars (P4.625B) for five years of funding, or roughly one billion peso a year.  If Mexico can do it, why can’t we?  What’s a billion peso yearly cut from the “pet projects “of legislators? Or from the billions of pesos confidential funds of the Office of the President, the VP, and the Cabinet members?

President BBM, our nation is in the Pacific ring of fire.  The BIG ONE in the West Valley fault can strike anytime or a huge tsunami can occur again in Mindanao or here in Luzon or Visayas.  Let’s spend government money to save lives as much as possible and protect our people from these disasters. 

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.

Subscribe to our daily newsletter

By providing an email address. I agree to the Terms of Use and acknowledge that I have read the Privacy Policy.

And simultaneously, we should seriously adapt very strictly our own seismic safety designs and our building codes. Let us make sure that every builder complies, and violators should be punished severely.

TAGS: Early Earthquake Warning System, Ferdinand Marcos, Sharp Edges

© Copyright 1997-2024 INQUIRER.net | All Rights Reserved

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. To find out more, please click this link.