Earthquake disasters: Prediction, prevention and early warning

Cinna Lomnitz
UNAM, Cuidad Univeritaria, Circuito Exterior, Delegacion Coyoacan, Mexico D.F. 04510, Mexico.
Tel. : +52-5-62 24 11 34, Fax: +52-5-5 50 24 86,
E-mail: cinna@ollin.igeofcu.unam.mx

There can be no early warning of earthquake disasters without some measure of earthquake prediction. Since earthquake prediction has become controversial the fact that early warning is feasible and is currently being implemented in Mexico and Japan suggests that certain extreme arguments against earthquake prediction should be qualified. At the same time, both the advantages and the limitations of early warning have become more apparent. These advantages and limitations are found in the technical as well as in the social domains.

In the future, early warning will play an increasingly important role in earthquake prediction. In terms of social utility, however, prevention will remain foremost in terms of research priorities. Where early warning stops, prevention must begin. I argue that a knowledge gap may persist in the gray are between seismology and earthquake engineering, that needs to be attended to. Eventually all structures must be made totally safe against earthquakes. Is this such a remote possibility? We discuss some recent findings on earthquake hazard on soft soil as well as new design approaches in the direction of total safety.