By Paul Doherty
PG&E today (Sept. 28) announced that it has successfully deployed a commercial-grade earthquake early warning (EEW) system on a bank of four elevators at its downtown San Francisco headquarters.
The 34-story office building, located at 77 Beale St. in the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District, is now the first high-rise building on the West Coast to have elevators equipped with immediate, automated recall.
In the event of a strong earthquake, the four elevator cars connected to the EEW system will receive a warning signal up to one minute before shaking begins and automatically stop at the closest floor and open the doors, enabling passengers to safely exit the elevator before shaking occurs.
Earthquake early warning is intended to identify and characterize an earthquake a few seconds after it begins, calculate the likely intensity of ground shaking that will result, and deliver warnings to people and infrastructure in harm’s way via PA system, computer, smartphone, and eventually, via television and radio. The amount of warning time at a particular location depends on its distance from the earthquake epicenter.
“This is a tremendous milestone in PG&E’s effort to incorporate earthquake early warning into our emergency management and preparedness efforts and an important, proactive step in protecting employees and minimizing potential injury to personnel,” said PG&E’s Barry Anderson, vice president, Electric Distribution.
In May, Anderson was appointed by California Gov. Jerry Brown to the state’s EEW Advisory Board, which includes the director of the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and other state officials.
Over the past year, PG&E worked closely with Seismic Warning Systems (SWS) – a privately held earthquake warning developer and integrator – to install sensors, equipment and communications capabilities at its headquarters.
Being the first to deploy such a system on elevators in a high-rise building, PG&E needed to develop brand new protocols, coordinate with multiple internal teams, and consult with outside vendors. To become operational, the system needed to pass a safety inspection by the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA), which it did in August.
“PG&E is taking major steps forward in its culture of safety and embodying the state of California’s embrace of public/private partnerships in earthquake warning by working with Seismic Warning Systems to deploy both our on-site and regional earthquake warning system in Northern California. We are excited about applying our 16 years of earthquake warning experience to the protection of PG&E employees and assets,” said Michael J. Price, chief operating officer and chief technology officer, Seismic Warning Systems.
The deployment of this system is a pilot project which PG&E hopes to extend to additional elevators at its headquarters and at other offices and facilities. PG&E is also working with SWS to deploy earthquake warning system sensors at both a substation and a service center located on the San Francisco Peninsula.
In addition to working with SWS, PG&E is actively piloting other EEW solutions to test which ones will allow both automated and human actions in the seconds before an earthquake to protect lives, lessen property damage and ensure rapid service restoration.
In particular, PG&E is participating in the ShakeAlert project, an experimental EEW system for the west coast of the United States developed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) along with a coalition of State and university partners including the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.
Scientists from the USGS recently stated there is a 98 percent chance for a 6.0 magnitude earthquake or larger to strike the Bay Area sometime in the next 30 years, underscoring the importance of developing and fully implementing a comprehensive statewide EEW system as soon as possible.
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