UW News

April 10, 2017

USGS, partners launch a unified, West Coast-wide earthquake early warning system

UW News

The U.S. Geological Survey and university, public and private partners held an event April 10 at the University of Washington to introduce the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning program as a unified, West Coast-wide system. The event also introduced the first pilot uses of the earthquake early warning in Washington and Oregon.

The first Pacific Northwest pilot users of the system are Bothell, Wash.-based RH2 Engineering, which will use the alerts to secure municipal water and sewer systems so these structures remain usable after a major quake. Oregon’s first test user, the Eugene Water & Electricity Board, will use alerts to lower water levels in a canal above a residential area in Oregon, and to stop turbines at a river power plant. A parallel launch event was held in Eugene the same day.

Both utility providers participated in a beta test group that has been learning about the system since early 2015 from the UW-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which coordinates the system in Washington and Oregon.

“We are thrilled to take the first steps in integrating earthquake early warning into life in the Pacific Northwest,” John Vidale, UW professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “Our teamwork has made it possible to reach this milestone so quickly.”

The ShakeAlert system will provide seconds to minutes of warning before damaging shaking arrives. That would be enough time to get out of a dangerous building, turn off a vehicle, stop surgeries and other delicate activities, and prepare for the imminent ground shaking.

Other speakers at the event included David Applegate, USGS acting deputy director; Doug Given, USGS coordinator of earthquake early warning; U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Port Angeles); Maximilian Dixon, earthquake program manager at Washington State Emergency Management Division; and Dan Ervin, chair of RH2 Engineering.

The system’s development at the USGS and four partner universities has been funded with a combination of public and private grants. Development of ShakeAlert at the UW has been supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Amazon Catalyst program and Puget Sound Energy.

Three new staff members have been hired in the UW Department of Earth and Space Sciences as part of the effort. Mouse Reusch is the Pacific Northwest’s new ShakeAlert coordinator, and will be answering questions about the system and obtaining permits for approximately 200 new Pacific Northwest sites. Alex Hutko is a new programmer who will work on improving quality control for the alerts. Brendan Pratt and Sarina Patel are new field technicians who will assist with upgrading existing seismometers and assist with installing new sensors.

Given, of the USGS, said the agency plans to begin limited public alerts in 2018, but that more seismometers will be needed to provide reliable alerts for communities throughout the earthquake-prone regions.

“At the UW College of the Environment, ShakeAlert is a shining example of our commitment to engaging public, private, nonprofit and academic partners in solving the greatest environmental challenges of our time,” UW College of the Environment Dean Lisa Graumlich said in her remarks. “Together, we co-create scientific solutions that have real impacts on people’s lives.”

The USGS estimates $38.3 million in initial costs to complete a reliable, public system for the entire West Coast, and $16.1 million each year to maintain and operate the ShakeAlert system. About half of the operational costs have been funded so far, researchers say.


For more information, contact Vidale at 310-210-2131 or vidale@uw.edu, or seismic network communications manager Bill Steele at 206-685-5880 or wsteele@uw.edu.