UW News

February 2, 2016

UW awarded private, public grants to develop earthquake early warning tool

UW News

The University of Washington is among West Coast universities awarded new funding for earthquake early warning systems, announced Feb. 2 as part of a White House Earthquake Resilience Summit.

The UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network is helping to develop ShakeAlert, an automated alert system that could save lives and prevent millions of dollars in damages by providing seconds to minutes of warning before shaking begins.

The UW; the University of California, Berkeley; California Institute of Technology; and the U.S. Geological Survey were awarded $3.6 million in funding today from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to help advance the earthquake early warning system. The UW group will study the implementation of a network of sensors on the ocean floor to provide early warning for earthquakes from the Cascadia subduction zone, the largest threat for a catastrophic earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.

“Earthquakes pose tremendous risk to our communities, and so researchers from the UW and our partners are working with private funders and city, state and federal governments to create an accurate, responsive early warning system,” said John Vidale, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, who spoke at the summit.

“ShakeAlert’s benefits are clear: It will save lives and reduce the costs of major earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest. We’re fortunate to have strong bipartisan support that can help ShakeAlert become a key part of our efforts to make the West Coast more resilient to major quakes.”

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s office today announced its support with new commitments toward earthquake preparedness, including $4.6 million to identify and map geologic hazards in the state.

The White House on Feb. 2 also issued an executive order to boost earthquake readiness standards in federal buildings throughout the nation.

Other new commitments to earthquake readiness in the Pacific Northwest include:

  • Puget Sound Energy Foundation is donating $100,000 to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network over four years to buy eight strong-motion seismometers that will be installed throughout Washington to improve the state’s earthquake early warning capability.
  • Amazon Catalyst, a partnership launched last year between Amazon Corp. and the UW, is funding a UW group that will develop MegaShake, a new system that will combine GPS and seismic data to accurately identify incoming earthquakes above a magnitude 7.
  • In Oregon, Intel Corp. is beginning discussions this week to broaden its support for earthquake early warning systems for the Portland area and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The new expenditures follow a $5 million grant made in July by the U.S. Geological Survey to the UW and three other West Coast universities to develop the ShakeAlert tool.

A bipartisan West Coast congressional delegation, led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Port Angeles, and Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, has been instrumental in elevating the need for earthquake warning to the national level and advocating for increased funding. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, and Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, have also urged the federal government to increase its support for earthquake early warning implementation.

“We are halfway there” in terms of funding, Vidale said at the White House summit. “As a scientist, it’s most exciting and gratifying to help bring earthquake early warning to fruition for my country.”


For more information, contact Vidale at vidale@uw.edu or 310-210-2131. He will be back in Seattle on Thursday, Feb. 4. For Seattle interviews earlier this week, contact research scientist Brendan Crowell at crowellb@uw.edu.

See also a White House fact sheet on the new commitments toward advancing earthquake readiness.