pre-quake warning system doesn't cover as much ground as SMS alerts, but with only 10 to 20 seconds of available panic time before an earthquake hits, we'd probably be toppling over one another before we could even find our cellphone anyway. Japan's Meteorological Agency is currently testing a prototype system which detects the oh-so-subtle "P Waves" that precede the destructive "S Waves," and alerts major operations to halt their hustle and take cover. Since the primary waves travel more quickly than the comparatively sluggish secondary waves, the system picks up on the magnitude and speed at which the quake is approaching, and beams the data over fiber optic networks to emergency relay stations setup in corporate towers, governmental buildings, hospitals, and transportation venues such as railways. The typical alert allows under half a minute to shutdown operations and dash for safety, but the agency claims this crucial shred of time can be enough to scurry away from any treacherous hazards nearby. The government plans to expand a fully-featured system to provide alerts via television, radio, and "wireless communications" by March 2007, but until then, we suspect the ole "ear to the ground" method is the best you've got.
[Via Pink Tentacle]