Japan: government launches earthquake warning system

The Emergency Quake Alert system raises the alert as soon as it detects the first seismic waves of a quake with a magnitude 3.5 or above that precede shaking, said Meteorological Agency spokesman Masashi Yoshino, the AP reports.

Forty-one companies and organizations, including railways, construction, precision instrument makers, and one medical institution have already signed up to receive the alerts, Yoshino said.

Under the system, the contracted entities each will pay about US$870 costs for an exclusive line and alert information and maintenance fees.

The companies and organizations will receive a warning about 10-30 seconds before the shaking starts, and information about the expected intensity of tremors, the AP reports.

The agency hopes an advance warning will provide some grace time for companies to shut down power plants, speeding trains to brake or emergency services get a head start before a strong quake hits.

The system could also allow hospital staff to switch to a backup power source and elevators to stop and let people out before the damage-causing shaking, the agency said.