d Scott Sandler & QuakeFinder

Buckle your seatbelt ...

Scott Sandler & QuakeFinder

by Peggy Aycinena

Anyone who knew Scott Sandler back in his halcyon days in EDA, when he served as long-time President & CEO at Novas Software [aka SpringSoft], knew he liked to shake things up. These days, 18 months into his retirement out of the industry, Scott's still thinking about shaking things up, but it's a different kind of shaking.

Scott's gotten involved in getting the word out about QuakeFinder, a radical – even “fringe” according to some – technology initiative that hopes to help you and me, and the other dolts who live and work cheek-to-jowl with things like the San Andreas and/or Hayward Faults, know well in advance when the next Big One will be channeling Scott Sandler and really shaking things up.

The QuakeFinder technology, if I understand it correctly, is about looking for changes in the magnetic signature in rocky formations that are kicked up when the electrical currents in those formations are themselves kicked up by increased stresses, the kinds that lead to earthquakes.

So, as the rocky structures beneath and around us – those nasty, fractured, fault-infested structures – start to build up pre-earthquake stresses in the weeks and days prior to an event, their associated electrical currents start to change, and their associated magnetic signatures change, as well. QuakeFinder magnetometers, if placed in sufficient numbers and in clever enough locations, would let us all know with lots of luxurious warning that the next seismic event was approaching.

The value of that pre-event knowledge would massively outrank anything offered by the current state of the art in earthquake prediction – the approximately 3-second warning we [might] get from the extensive network of seismic senors that currently pepper our faulty world here in Earthquake Country, perched on the Ring of Fire, or the equally useless sometime-in-the-next-30-to-100-years-type warnings that emanate regularly from the offices of the USGS.

It's not surprising then, given that I've lived all my life adjacent to the San Andreas, that this QuakeFinder technology sounds pretty darn nifty to me. So, what's standing in the way of implementing the necessary network of millions of QF-type sensors, a network with the potential to save thousands of lives and orders of magnitude more in dollars?

The hurdles are two-fold – money and acceptance. That magnetometer network would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to implement to the necessary level of coverage, and the seismic/scientific community isn't buying into the concept in particularly big numbers [as yet]. Clearly, the folks at QuakeFinder have got their work cut out for them.

Okay, so I'm not an expert in geology, geography, vulcanology, seismology, civil engineering, astronomy, or astrology. But I am expert in stopping dead in my tracks, 'listening' for the slightest motion in the floors or walls, and rushing to the entry hall to see if the chandelier is swinging: “Wait! Was that an earthquake???”

So, if the QuakeFinder technology can give me more feedback than the chandelier, and far more lead-time than just that ominous thump that precedes the real thing – yeah, I was here in '89 – then I'm all for it. Let's throw some big bucks at this stuff, let's look closely and critically at the science, and if it's valid – let's give it a shot. The millions spent to implement the network would be paid back in spades in the billions that would be saved by knowing far enough in advance of a major event to take defensive, life-and-property saving measures.

Oh, and by the way, Scott Sandler and I talked about QuakeFinder and all its potential over breakfast at Buck's Cafe in Woodside, just west of 280 on the San Francisco Peninsula. He didn't know at the time, and neither did I, exactly how far we were from the San Andreas Fault sitting there calmly drinking our tea. But I told him I'd find out.

The answer? Approximately 1500 meters, or just under a mile. Wow. Like I said, we were at Buck's which is clearly short for ...

“Buckle your seatbelt, it's going to be a bumpy ride!”

September 28, 2011


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