Cal prof Joshua Bloom makes earthquake alert kit for

Joshua Bloom’s homemade earthquake early warning alarm, in a box from East Bay restaurant Grgoire. Photo: Joshua BloomWhen theNapa earthquake struck on Aug. 24, Joshua Bloom had a 5 second warning.

That’s because the UC Berkeley astronomy professor likes to tinker.

It was whenBloom was abeta tester in the prototype ShakeAlert system being developed by a consortium of seismological researchers (including UC Berkeley), that he came up with an idea.

“I thought it was silly that every time I closed my laptop, I couldn’tget a warning,” hesaid.

So Bloom cobbled together his own earthquake alarm for just over $100, using a Raspberry Pi single board computer ($36.39), a wired speaker ($14.99), a mini WiFi adapter ($6.71), and SD card.

To house it, he uses a box from Grgoire, the local restaurant groupknown for its crispy potato puffs. And he keeps the device in theliving room of his North Berkeley home, next to the fireplace. (Bloom details how it workedon his blog.)

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For Bloom, this is tinkering with a definite purpose. He sees his demonstration project as validation that Californians could have an earthquake alarm in every home for about the same price as smoke detectors and carbon monoxide alarms. And he hopes it adds pressure to the legislature to fund the $80 million it will take to roll out the ShakeAlert network beyond its few privileged early testers.

Joshua Bloom:His kidsthink the alarm is “super cool.” Photo: courtesy Joshua Bloom”There’s a huge safety component to it,” Bloom said. “Knowing it’s cheap to make will get the cheap jerseys public excited and hopefully get the legislature to fund it.”

Users can setthe sensitivity of the alarm. Bloom has his set for something that could cause major damage, like the Napa quake.

With a network in place, he said, users could use the devices as early warning for a wide range of threats, including tsunamis, radiation leaks and chemical spills.

Bloom points out that Japan already has a comprehensive earthquake early alert network. Even with as little as five or 10 seconds warning, trains can be stopped, elevators can be halted at a floor, and residents can shelter under a table. Many lives can potentially be saved with such systems.

Bloom said he plansto finesse hisprototype and make more of them so theycan be placed in his kids’ classrooms and the homes of friends. He hasadded atweetbot featurethat listens for new seismic events and spreads theword over social media.

In Bloom’s house, the alarm is certainly proving popular with his children, who are in first and third grade.

I curious how much of the $80M is for building out the sensor network (most of it I bet) vs the infrastructure to allow public access to whatever signal they are able to produce currently (trivial expense probably). My guess is it has more to do with support costs and setting expectations if they roll out access to the public that don understand current capabilities vs. limitations, then perception will be that it all sucks and they won get any more funding.

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