The Man Who Makes Money Off Earthquakes

When the ground begins to shake, George Dickson gets the call. It was from Japan this week.

As the CEO of Seismic Warning Systems, he is in a unique position. Whenever a big quake hits, his company is thrust into the spotlight, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

The QuakeGuard system on which SWS was founded differs from other earthquake detection technologies because it provides the user with a different kind of information, Dickson said. The sensors in QuakeGuard 300 pick up the earliest shock waves generated by an earthquake, called “P-waves.” These waves arrive before the larger shock waves that cause the most serious damage in an earthquake.

“We approached the P-wave earthquake early warning challenge from the end-user perspective,” Dickson said. “Our focus, and our technology, focuses on the intensity of an earthquake rather than the magnitude, which is more relevant to the business and/or facility we are protecting.We then wanted to ensure we’re making the detection of a significant event actionable, which required the ability to control equipment and/or warn occupants. Finally, of course, we had to be sure the system was reliable and did not have false activations and it has to be fast.”

Some early detection systems gather data from sensors placed in various areas around an earthquake zone, compile it and then issue a warning for a region. The process can take as long as 30 seconds or more, Dickson said. QuakeGuard’s sensors (there are two per detection unit) are located on site – in schools, firehouses, commercial buildings – and set off alarms located at the same site.

Screenshot from Seismic Warning Systems

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