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Starting March 11, ShakeAlert-powered earthquake early warning alerts will be available for delivery directly to wireless devices in Oregon, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Installing

Karl Hagel and Pat McChesney, field engineers with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network team at the University of Washington, install earthquake monitoring equipment on the slopes of Mount St. Helens, with Mount Hood in the distance.

In May 2021, Washington state will follow suit and complete the ShakeAlert public alerting rollout across the entire West Coast. California enabled ShakeAlert-powered alerts in October 2019.

As massive slabs of Earth squish into and grind past each other off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, many people may wonder when they will feel ensuing earthquakes, according to the USGS, which cannot predict where and when future earthquakes will occur, but the bureau, along with a team of organizations, has created a system to provide vital seconds of warning that an earthquake is happening and shaking is imminent.

How it works

The ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning system is a network of sensors that collects and shares real-time information about the magnitude, location and expected shaking from earthquakes on the West Coast to distribution partners who then deliver alerts via cell phones and the internet. Partners can also initiate automatic protective actions such as stopping trains to prevent derailments and closing water valves to protect infrastructure.

ShakeAlert can save lives and reduce injuries by giving people time to take protective actions, such as moving away from hazardous areas and making sure to drop, cover and hold on, according to the USGS.

Oregon will be the second state to ”go live,” with the ShakeAlert system. California enacted the system on Oct. 17, 2019. Washington state will activate the system in May, which will complete the wireless alert delivery rollout across the entire continental West Coast.

For more than two years, a growing number of ShakeAlert technical partners in all three states have been using the ShakeAlert system for triggering automated actions to support public safety. Although ShakeAlert is operational in all three states, the USGS and its university and state partners are working to finish building the seismic network to support prompt earthquake detection. The network is now 70% complete for the West Coast, with 1,132 out of 1,675 seismic stations installed as of Jan. 31, 2021.

“The rollout of public alerting for ShakeAlert in the Pacific Northwest is a major milestone in the evolution of this critical system and has the potential to provide users with life-saving warnings seconds before they experience damaging shaking in future earthquakes,” The USGS’s Gavin Hayes said. “This represents a major achievement for the USGS, the ANSS and for our state and regional partners.”

ShakeAlert Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) demonstration in Washington

On Thursday, Feb. 25 at 11 a.m. PST, the Washington Emergency ManagementDivision (WEMD) and the USGS will jointly deliver a ShakeAlert-powered WEA test message through FEMA’s Integrated Public Alerting and Warning System across wireless devices in King, Pierce and Thurston counties. This test coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Feb. 28, 2001, Nisqually earthquake, which was Washington's most recent damaging earthquake.

ShakeAlert-powered alert delivery in Oregon

Leading up to March 11, Oregon, in collaboration with USGS and other partners, will use various methods to announce the availability of alerts powered by the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning system to be delivered to wireless devices.

The delivery date coincides with the 10th anniversary of the magnitude-9.1 Great Tohoku earthquake in Japan, which took about 20,000 peoples’ lives, triggered a tsunami that produced waves up to 132 feet high and caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

After traveling across the Pacific, the tsunami rose to more than 26 feet in Hawaii and more than 6.5 feet in California and Oregon, causing debris to wash up on the Oregon coastline. A task force made up of state and federal agencies, along with non-governmental organizations, worked together for three years to coordinate nearly 900 clean-up events during which an estimated 40,000 volunteers picked up more than 446,000 pounds of debris on the Oregon coast.

Alert delivery using the WEA system will go live on March 11, with a WEA demonstration for educational purposes planned for July 2021 to allow time for Oregon, USGS and partners to broadly promote the system and effectively train the public on how to opt into the test and participate in a statewide alert experiment.

“Oregon is one of the most earthquake-prone areas in the continental United States, and over the years, we have had many earthquakes – large and small,” Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management Geologic Hazards Program Coordinator Althea Rizzo said. “Warning resources such as ShakeAlert can help to mitigate loss of lives, severe injury and devastating damage to infrastructure.”

ShakeAlert on social media

Various organizations’ social media accounts will be sharing the latest updates and news about ShakeAlert in the Pacific Northwest using #ORShakeAlert and #WAShakeAlert. Visit these accounts to learn more:

  • @USGS_ShakeAlert on Twitter
  • @OregonOEM on Twitter
  • @WAEMD on Twitter
  • @PNSN on Twitter
  • @WashEMD on Facebook

 

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