Sichuan firm wins quake contract

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 August, 2011, 12:00am


An earthquake warning system developed by a hi-tech start-up in Sichuan province has won a contract from Haiti, giving China a foothold in a field dominated by Japan.

Meihuan Technology, based in Chengdu, signed a strategic co-operation agreement on Sunday with I.Trade, an international trade company in Haiti, to provide the hardware and technology that would give Haitian residents an earthquake warning of up to 30 seconds before the arrival of its devastating impact, Huaxi Metropolis News reported.

Haiti was hit by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake in 2010.

Meihuan founder Dr Wang Tun said yesterday that his company's system performed to a very high standard during trials in Sichuan and passed the provincial authorities' quality inspection. An investment of US$3 million could provide earthquake warnings for the whole of Haiti while offering the same, if not better, speed and accuracy of a rival system from Japan.

'Our research and development aims for high accuracy, low cost and a simple-to-use interface,' Wang said. 'Even farmers can understand, operate and maintain the equipment.'

I.Trade president and CEO Hantz Fevry, told Huaxi Metropolis News his company would hold a six-month trial of the system in an area of 4,000 square kilometres, about 15 per cent of Haiti's total area. It would take about two years to extend the service to the entire country.

'I have studied many earthquake warning systems around the world and found the Chinese system most suitable to Haiti,' he said. 'Japanese warning systems need the internet to transmit information, but this system only needs radio, which is more suitable for Haiti.'

Fevry said I.Trade planned to take the system to other earthquake-prone countries.

Japan spent decades developing its early warning system. The Japan Meteorological Agency launched a nationwide programme in 2007 to integrate it throughout the private and public sector. Bullet trains stopped automatically seconds before March 11's magnitude-9.0 earthquake.

Wang said Meihuan's system worked in similar fashion. In the event of an earthquake, seismic detectors pick up pressure waves that travel fast but cause no harm. They send an alarm via the cell phone network, internet and communication satellites to wall-mounted or hand-held devices, giving people up to 30 seconds warning before the arrival of slower, but far more destructive, 'shear' waves.

The firm set up 70 detectors along the fault zone from Wenchuan to Qingchuan created by the huge earthquake in Sichuan in May 2008. Since April this year, the system has issued more than 60 warnings and made only one mistake.

Wang said the central government included setting up an earthquake early warning system in its new five-year plan and he hoped Meihuan's technology would be among the first to be applied.

But Fan Xiao, chief engineer at the Sichuan Geology and Mineral Bureau in Chengdu, said implementing the technology would face more challenges and uncertainties on the mainland than in Japan.

'Japan's early warning system is built on a solid foundation. It works very well with highly efficient government, good citizen education and impeccable building quality,' Fan said. 'But China has none of these supporting elements, especially building quality. People will have nowhere to go after receiving a warning because no shelter is safe.'


The estimated number of people killed in the January 2010 Haiti earthquake

- 300,000 were injured

- 1m left homeless