Tokyo ward mistakenly e-mails citizens about earthquake

A warning went out to subscribers of a cell phone e-mail service

 TOKYO -- A routine test of an earthquake information system in Tokyo mistakenly notified citizens today about an earthquake that hadn't occurred.

Subscribers to a cell phone e-mail service provided by Tokyo's Minato ward received messages just after 1 p.m. that a "moderately strong earthquake" had been registered at the city hall. "Beware of aftershocks. Check that fire-prone areas are secure and remain calm," stated the e-mail, which said the quake had registered 4 on the Japan Meteorological Agency seismic intensity scale.

A quake of that level is capable of frightening many people -- hanging objects would sway considerably, and people walking on the street and driving cars would notice movement. However, the 1,800 subscribers to the ward's e-mail service were likely more puzzled than frightened when the message came.

"We were testing the system, and we mistakenly sent out an e-mail," said an official at the ward's disaster prevention office. Officials sent out a second e-mail a few minutes later notifying subscribers of the error.

Japan is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, and tremors happen somewhere in the country on a daily basis. Earthquake information systems are highly advanced, and TV stations automatically flash news within minutes of a quake occurring. Yahoo Japan Corp. has also begun to carry information on its site, replacing all the banner ads with information when a strong quake occurs.

Last year, testing began on a new system that is capable of giving people several seconds' warning of an impending temblor. The system catches fast-moving but low-energy P-waves from a quake and quickly calculates the earthquake's source and strength. Then it can map where the more destructive S-waves will be felt at what time and at what strength.

The system could provide anywhere from a few seconds to a minute's warning of shaking from a major earthquake -- long enough to bring trains to a halt, cut gas supplies and stop factory production lines.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon