Our History

Seismic Warning Systems started research and development in 1995 and has been selling commercial earthquake warning products since 2000. Here are a few highlights of our history.
The R&D Years
Seismicity map of Southern California

1995 - Earthquake Warning Research

In 1995 some scientists had an idea about how to use P-waves to create a practical warning of earthquakes (see Science of Earthquakes). They focused on how an earthquake warning (EQW) could be used to deliver the greatest benefits.

This vision of having a real impact on reducing the effects of earthquakes attracted the interest of investors who agreed to fund earthquake warning research and product development. An early version received very positive feedback from users and a more advanced follow-on product was designed, guided by discussions with potential customers.

The Killer App
A Fire Station

1999 - The First Application - Fire Stations

One of the first EQW applications encountered was the problem faced by fire fighters in an earthquake: the equipment bay doors often jam delaying deployment of fire fighting and rescue equipment. One example of this occurred during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. The doors of fire station #5 in Oakland, California, one block from the collapsed Cypress Freeway structure, were knocked off their rails. The crew spent 10-15 minutes removing the doors (see Loma Prieta Experience).

It is unknown whether that delay resulted in deaths or injuries that could have been prevented with a more timely response, but the memory of their delay in responding to the community's needs deeply affected the fire fighters. Preventing equipment bay door jams was a high-priority earthquake warning application.

Commerical Sales and Customers - Early Adopters
QuakeGuard industrial model

2000 - QuakeGuard Sales Start

In 2000, Seismic Warning Systems began sales efforts in California for the QuakeGuard product which included several breakthrough innovations:

  • Dual sensors to eliminate false alarms due to man-made vibrations and speed up P-wave processing.
  • Advanced P‑wave analysis algorithms that could characterize a P‑wave in less than a second.
  • Integration of industrial controls and audible alerts with EQW to support reliable and universal applications.

2001 - The First Customer Installation

In 2001, The City of Palm Springs became the first QuakeGuard customer and the fire station at the Palm Springs airport became the first facility in the United States to be equipped with a commercial earthquake warning device. During an earthquake, the QuakeGuard produces an audible alert, turns on station lights, and opens the equipment bay doors.

2001 - False Positive Performance Validation

In the summer of 2001, Palm Springs began the construction of an extension of the airport fire station, which started with the demolition of a portion of the building. Jack hammering caused the entire building to shake, "just like an earthquake," according to people working in the station, which was also the fire department headquarters. They thought the vibrations felt like an earthquake, but the earthquake warning device didn't detect them and didn't produce an alert. They wondered if the device was faulty.

At 11:56 on the evening of October 30, 2001, a Mw 5.1 earthquake occurred in Anza, California, about 22 miles from Palm Springs. The earthquake alert sounded, the station lights turned on, and the equipment bay doors opened. The Chief called to report that the QuakeGuard device had worked to everyone's satisfaction (see 2001 Anza Experience).

That was the first field demonstration of the ability of the QuakeGuard to reliably distinguish between man-made vibrations and earthquakes.

2003 - QuakeGuard Saves Lives

There have been many earthquakes during which QuakeGuards provided protection for customers. The most notable was the 2003 Mw 6.5 San Simeon earthquake which killed 2 people in nearby Paso Robles. At the Paso Robles fire station, fire fighters were training in the equipment bay when the QuakeGuard alarm sounded and the doors began opening. The fire fighters rolled out under the opening doors. When they looked back into the equipment bay, the trucks were rocking back and forth violently. The fire fighters had escaped serious injury (see San Simeon Experience).

Network Capabilities
QuakeGuard industrial model

2004 - Network Support Introduced

A new version of the QuakeGuard was introduced in 2005 that supported, among other enhancements, network communication. Network communication brought remote diagnostics and monitoring, remote system updates, remoote triggering, and performance improvements. The first customer of this new model was the City of Palm Springs which purchased QuakeGuards for all the other fire stations in their city.

2005-2008 - Expanding Applications of EQW

Many new and different applications of earthquake warning (EQW) were installed during this time. These included:

  • to allow passengers to exit safely from elevators
  • to initiate drop, cover, and hold-on actions in schools
  • to shut off valves to avoid loss from broken pipes

With these, and other, applications, customers begain to explore the possibilities and benefits of EQW.

Earthquake Warning Awareness & Preparedness
Shakemap for the Great Shakeout scenario

2008 - The Great ShakeOut and the Coachella Valley

During the 2000s, several moderate earthquakes occurred around the Coachella Valley for which QuakeGuards provided protection. Based on the these successful experiences, a discussion of earthquake warning was included in a conference organized by three Coachella Valley cities as part of the 2008 Great Shakeout exercise.

A dialog began with the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG), Palm Springs Unified, Desert Sands Unified, Coachella Valley Unified, and the Coachella Valley Emergency Managers Association (CVEMA) about how best to bring earthquake warning to the rest of the valley.

2008-2009 - Earthquake Warning as a Service

In an earthquake, the QuakeGuard nearest the epicenter is the first to detect and analyze the earthquake. This information can be sent to all other locations arriving well before the P-wave. This is the basic idea behind a networked earthquake warning system.

In 2008 and 2009, Seismic Warning Systems worked on a next generation earthquake warning system; one in which the warning is delivered as a service to everyone affected by the earthquake. It relies on a network of QuakeGuard stations placed specifically to maximize the amount of warning time that can be provided (see How It Works).

PPP - Public Private Partnering
CREWS Logo

2009 - CREWS Project Approved

Discussions with CVAG led to the Coachella Valley Regional Earthquake Warning System (CREWS) agreement in 2009. CREWS is a public/private partnership between Seismic Warning Systems and CVAG, the school districts, and CVEMA. The partnership includes a novel approach to providing public benefits without the need for ongoing public funding (see Details About CREWS).

Seismic Warning Systems will construct a regional networked earthquake warning system providing protection for the entire Coachella Valley and will sell earthquake warning services to businesses, organizations, and individuals throughout the Valley.

The public partners of CREWS will pay for the purchase and installation of earthquake warning controllers in each of the public facilities to be protected. The public partners will also purchase several years of earthquake warning services.

In exchange for pre-paying for these services, Seismic Warning Systems will subsidize those services going forward. Revenue from commercial sales of earthquake warning will pay for the operation, maintenance, and improvements of the earthquake warning system as well as the subsidy for the CREWS public partners.

NASA Collaboration
Station installation at SCAMP

2010 - Sonic Boom Research with NASA

NASA Dryden (now NASA Armstrong) installed a QuakeGuard in 2010 at Edwards Air Force Base, where Dryden is located. Flight operations and NASA research programs frequently generate sonic booms over the base. The QuakeGuard is designed to ignore non-seismic sources, but sonic booms had not been specifically studied. NASA funded a research project with Seismic Warning Systems as part of an on-going project investigating supersonic aircraft design. A series of specific flights were scheduled with profiles designed to produce concentrated sonic booms. The QuakeGuard proved immune to these shock waves.

PPP - Public Private Partnering
ICREWS Logo

2011 - ICREWS Project Approved

The CREWS model was so appealing that Imperial County agreed to a similar partnership in 2011 following their experiences during the 2010 Mw 7.2 El Mayor - Cucapah earthquake. The County's funding was approved in 2013 (see Details About ICREWS) and the contract for the project with Seismic Warning Systems was signed in late 2014.

Working with the State of California
CEEWS Working Group logos

2013 - California EQW Working Group

The California Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) convened a working group of all organizations working on or providing EQW in California to determine the best path to EQW for the State. Representatives from CalOES, Caltech, UC Berkeley, California Seismic Safety Commission, California Geological Society, USGS, and Seismic Warning Systems were present. SWS was the only commercial participant. A charter document was published and subcommittees started meeting in 2014 to expand participation and refine the plan.

Another Validation of QuakeGuard Capabilities
South Napa intensity map

2014 - South Napa earthquake

On August 24, 2014, a M 6.0 earthquake occurred just south of Napa, California. It caused extensive damage in Napa and Vallejo. The fire stations in Vallejo were protected by our QuakeGuard products which had been installed there in 2003 and 2004. Depsite being very close to the epicenter, all the QuakeGuards detected the earthquake and commanded the station doors to open and started an alarm to alert the fire fighters. See the South Napa earthquake report.