The Production of Earthquake Emergencies: technoscientific earthquake early warning in a social and material world

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Contributed date

July 17, 2018 - 9:29pm

Critical Commentary

In order to prevent injury and save lives, earthquake early warning systems like Mexico’s public Sistema de Alerta Sísmica Mexicano (SASMEX) must pair timely, effective hazard detection with effective alert dissemination to responsive users. The alert makes seismicity meaningful to its users in new ways. This article draws on contemporary STS concerns with how materials come to be meaningful in order to reckon with how an earthquake alert comes to be a kind of earthquake emergency. Engaging ethnographically with an alert which did not presage violent shaking, and subsequent public discussion of its effects, I argue for taking the social production of emergency seriously. By highlighting responses to and potential effects of this earthquake emergency, I push back against simple techno-optimism to highlight the necessity of public education to support potentially life-saving tools like the Sistema de Alerta Sismica Mexicano. Making emergencies into opportunities for Mexico City residents may require introducing new kinds of public outreach and education about not just the alert, but about the possibilities and limits of technoscientific disaster prevention.


Reddy, E. “Alerta Sismica: Matter, Meaning, and the Social Production of Earthquake Emergency.” Revista Iberoamericana de Comunicación. 30. 2016.

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