Suddenly, spotlight on earthquake entrepreneur
Earthquake entrepreneur George Dickson hopes to change the way the world gets its earthquake warnings.
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As CEO of California-based Seismic Warning Systems (SWS), Dickson is in a delicate position. Each time tragedy strikes in the form of a massive earthquake, his company, which sells earthquake early detection technology, is thrust into the spotlight.
Since last week’s earthquake in Japan, Dickson has fielded calls from potential clients all over the world — and, of course, from the media.
The interest in his company is certainly good for business. In the long run, Dickson hopes, it may also change the way the world thinks about earthquake warning systems.
A different approach
SWS’s technology, which is currently being used in more than 40 commercial locations in California, is called QuakeGuard 300. It has some notable customers, including the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center and the day care center at Cisco’s California headquarters.
“I come from a long line of entrepreneurs,” Dickson said. “My father was an entrepreneur; my grandfather was an entrepreneur.” So far, Dickson has funded the company entirely with his own money and with help from family, friends and small private investors.
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.”