Japan formally launched an earthquake early warning system on Tuesday that will give railway operators, construction firms and other businesses time to prepare for a quake before the shaking begins, officials said. The Emergency Quake Alert system raises the alarm as soon as the Meteorological Agency detects the first seismic waves of a quake with a magnitude 3.5 or above, said Masashi Yoshino, an agency spokesman. "With this system in place, we're able to make a first step to lessen damage," Meteorological Agency chief Tetsu Hiraki told reporters. Forty-one companies and organizations, including railways, construction firms, precision instrument makers, and one medical institution have already signed up to receive the alerts, Yoshino said. Under the system, the contracted entities each will pay about 100,000 yen (US$870 - costs for an exclusive line and alert information and maintenance fees - per month. The companies and organizations will receive a warning about 10-30 seconds before the shaking starts, and information about the expected intensity of tremors, he said.