Years in making to prepare for seconds: ShakeAlert is live

Earthquakes

ShakeAlert does not predict quakes, but does provide real-time warnings

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A new ShakeAlert notification system for earthquakes is going live in Oregon on Thursday morning.

The system can detect significant earthquakes quickly and send a real-time alert to your phone before the shaking reaches you.

STEP-BY-STEP: How to access ShakeAlert and prepare for an earthquake 

ShakeAlert does not predict earthquakes or how long they will last — but it does offer advance warning about quakes that have already started. The system will continue to monitor the shaking until it stops.

“You may get more than one of these alerts if it is a large earthquake and continues to grow,” said Althea Rizzo of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.

ShakeAlert is made up of hundreds of seismic sensors along the west coast that can detect the start of an earthquake and warn us before we feel the shaking.

“ShakeAlert notifications can offer critical seconds of warning before we feel the impacts of an earthquake, giving people a chance to take action ­to protect themselves,” said Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps.

Oregon ShakeAlert page
Washington ShakeAlert page

There are two practical applications for ShakeAlert. One: it will send alerts to our cell phones, so we can prepare. Two: it allows commercial spaces to set up automated actions to protect lives and critical infrastructure.

For instance, it can open fire station garage doors and elevator doors so fire trucks and people don’t get trapped inside. It can also block bridges so people don’t accidentally get on them when the shaking starts. Furthermore, it can slow trains and transit systems and automatically protect resources, like gas, water and our power grid.

Founder of Early Warning Labs Josh Bashioum says it can sound alarms in places like schools, hospitals and government entities.

“With those audible alerts, why they’re so important is we can prevent about half the major injuries and deaths in the next big earthquake,” Bashioum said.

Steve Eberlein, an earthquake preparedness expert in Oregon and the corporate resilience and engagement manager at Ethos Preparedness, says this technology is a huge leap toward hope of resiliency when the Cascadia subduction zone quake happens.

He says hands down, ShakeAlert is the most empowering development he’s seen in the last two decades of Cascadia science.

“The ability to have an early warning instead of us waiting for this big thing to happen without any notice — now we will have the notice,” he said. “And our job now as citizens is to decide what are we going to do with that five seconds, 10 seconds, one minute, two minutes of early warning — to keep our home safe, to keep our pets safe, to keep our children safe, to keep ourselves safe.”

Now — this power is quite literally in our hands.

The ShakeAlert system will go live at 10 a.m. Thursday. No sign-up is required to receive ShakeAlert notifications, and the only action needed is to enable emergency alerts through a cell phone’s settings. You can also download the QuakeAlertUSA app, made by Early Warning Labs.

QuakeAlertUSA: Apple
QuakeAlertUSA: Google Play

California has been using the ShakeAlert system for a year and a half. It will go live for Washington residents in May.

“If the recent disasters that have impacted our state have taught us anything, it’s that being prepared can make a big difference,” Chris Crabb with the Oregon Office of Emergency Management said.

Five years in the making

In September 2015, a roundtable discussion on earthquake warnings in the Pacific Northwest took place on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene with Rep. Peter DeFazio and other government officials and scientists.

Lucy Jones
FILE – This Jan. 28, 2013 file photo seismologist, Dr. Lucy Jones, describes how an early warning system would provide advance warning of an earthquake, at a news conference at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

The ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system was among the topics discussed.

At that time, DeFazio spoke with representatives from FEMA, the USGS and ODOT in an effort to make coordination of an early warning system successful.

Experts agree a large earthquake is likely to hit the Pacific Northwest, but when remains a mystery.

“It’s inevitable,” DeFazio said. “It’s going to happen. We don’t know when.”

The UO forum reinforced DeFazio’s view that an early warning system and investment in key infrastructure retrofitting are critical elements of a successful earthquake preparedness plan.

“We need to be prepared to mitigate the loss of life and the suffering that will result after the event,” DeFazio said back then.

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