IIT-Roorkee to deploy earthquake warning system across N India

Recent massive tremblors like the one in Mexico  point to  a need for more effective earthquake warning systems.

Dehradun: Enthused by the success of its pilot project on operationalising an early earthquake warning system in Uttarakhand, IIT Roorkee is planning to deploy the first-of-its-kind system across all seismic-prone major cities of the north India.

This project in India is part of the overall research being conducted by the institute in the field of earthquake engineering and is an extension of the pilot project undertaken in the Himalayan region.

As a pilot, which started in 2015, IIT Roorkee was the first institute to deploy 84 sensors in seismic gap region of the Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand with the help of the Ministry of Earth Sciences.

These on-site sensors stream data in real-time to a computer server at the institute using the network of the Uttarakhand government which is being processed for issuing warnings for earthquakes of magnitude 6 and above.

“Looking at the seismic map of India, we know that most of the northern region cities are under a constant threat of a severe or moderate earthquake. The aim of our study in the Himalayan region was to ensure a working mechanism which will be able to save lives,” said M L Sharma from IIT Roorkee’s Department of Earthquake Engineering and the principal Investigator of the project.

“Predicting earthquakes is impossible, but it is possible to save people living in distant cities through a simple warning system, which will give them enough lead time to reach a safe open place in case of an impending earthquake,” Sharma said.

Sirens, connected to the server, have been fitted within the campus of IIT Roorkee to warn of an impending high magnitude earthquake in the region.

The project was successfully completed in March this year.

“The pilot was successfully completed and we have a working system within IIT Roorkee campus with sirens. Now we are deploying the same for the first time for public use in Dehradun and Haldwani. Within the next couple of years, I hope to scale this project up with the support of the government and set up the early earthquake warning systems across all major cities in North India, which are prone to earthquakes,” Sharma said.

After the successful completion of the pilot project, the Uttarakhand government sanctioned a project to IIT Roorkee earlier this year for maintenance of present earthquake early warning system and installation of 100 additional sensors covering Kumaun region.

Installation of sirens in State Emergency Operation Centres (SEOC) at Dehradun and all district headquarters of Uttarakhand and installation of 100 sirens in Dehradun and Haldwani were also sanctioned.

The early earthquake warning system works on the principle of propagation of various waves with different velocities starting together from the same point and reaching the target at different times.

The Electromagnetic (EM) waves travel much faster and will reach the target much ahead of the damaging seismic waves giving what we call a lead time, Sharma said.

An on-site seismic monitor near the earthquake source can quickly detect seismic waves and transmit information to processing centres, which in turn can issue an earthquake warning in real-time, he added.

Recent data sets compiled over the last two centuries reveal that large magnitude earthquakes have occurred around various regions of the Himalayas, but one segment of the central Himalaya, known as the central seismic gap, has the potential to generate a major earthquake and researchers tend to believe that such an earthquake is overdue.

The seismic sources with such potential in proximity to cities like Delhi has made this region a perfect case for the use of early earthquake warning system as one of the key disaster mitigation strategies.