Public earthquake early warning (PEEW) systems are intended to reduce individual risk by warning people ahead of shaking and allowing them to take protective action. Yet very few studies have assessed their actual efficacy from a risk‐reduction perspective. Moreover, according to these studies, a majority of people do not undertake safety actions when receiving the warning.

The spectrum of PEEW systems has expanded, with a greater diversity of actors (from citizens to private companies), increased independence from national authorities, and greater internationality. Beyond differences in warning and messaging strategies, systems’ characteristics may impact the way the public perceive, trust, understand, and respond to these warnings, which in turn will influence PEEW systems’ efficacy and perceived usefulness, enhancing the need for additional research.

We take the example of earthquake network, an independent, voluntary, community‐based and free system that offers a PEEW service. Through a quantitative survey (n = 2625), we studied users’ perception and reaction to a warning sent related to an M 8.0 earthquake in Peru (where no national system existed). We observed that even though only a minority of users actually took protective action, the system was appreciated and perceived as useful by the majority because it enabled mental preparation before the shaking. We found evidence for a tolerance for perceived late, missed, and false alerts. However, because it is a voluntary and independent system, the social dimension of the warning was incomplete because only a fringe of the population benefited from the warning. Therefore, many users’ first reaction was to warn their relatives. We discuss the need for partnerships between PEEW operators and national authorities to guarantee universal access to the service and maximize PEEW system efficacy.

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