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california earthquake (Crystal Eye Studio/Shutterstock.com)

USGS to tweak software after false earthquake alert

The U.S. Geological Survey is making some changes to its system for updating earthquake data after a software glitch sent out an alert for a nonexistent quake on June 21.

Robert de Groot, a staff scientist with the USGS field office in Pasadena, Calif., told GCN that the software will be modified to add a human verification step to the updating process.

Last week’s alert was sent out when researchers corrected the location of a 1925 earthquake. Because the USGS database uses Unix time, which begins in 1970, the system interpreted 1925 to mean 2025, de Groot said. As a result, alerts were sent to Earthquake Notification Service subscribers.

Going forward, the system will ask the human entering the update if the information is correct before posting, and “other modifications will made down the line,” he said.

The 1925 earthquake occurred before California had the vast seismic monitoring network it does today. As a result, data on older earthquakes can have inaccuracies, which is important to correct because the information is used by the Third Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, which provides estimates of the magnitude, location and likelihood of fault ruptures throughout the state. These models are used to inform building codes, earthquake insurance policies, emergency plans and other risk-mitigation efforts.

Because no one can predict earthquakes, getting information about the quakes out as fast as possible will continue to be very important, de Groot said. “Even in the future, there will be events that require revisions,” he said -- so it's important to make sure such updates don't create any additional false alarms.

Posted by Matt Leonard on Jun 27, 2017 at 1:21 PM


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