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U.S. Geological Survey Makes Moves to Expand, Improve Earthquake Early Alert System

The USGS has signed new cooperative agreements with six universities and purchased nearly $1 million in new equipment.

(TNS) — An earthquake early warning system that could give residents up and down the West Coast precious extra seconds to prepare for impending shock waves has taken a step forward.

The U.S. Geological Survey has awarded $4.9 million to six universities and nonprofits governed by universities to support the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system, according to a news release.

Also, the USGS purchased nearly $1 million in new equipment to expand and improve the system.

ShakeAlert is a product of the USGS Advanced National Seismic System, a federation of national and regional earthquake monitoring networks throughout the country, including networks along the West Coast and Nevada.

The USGS has signed new cooperative agreements with University of Oregon, University of Washington, California Institute of Technology, Central Washington University, University of California at Berkeley, University of Nevada, Reno and UNAVCO, Inc.

The organizations will work to bring real-time GPS observations into the ShakeAlert system as well as upgrade the networks and install new seismic stations to improve the speed and reliability of the warnings.

They’ll also develop and streamline scientific algorithms to quickly detect potentially damaging earthquakes, and more thoroughly test and refine the warning system.

“This is just a small step along the way, one of many milestones,” said Doug Given, earthquake early warning coordinator for the USGS.

Given said the warning system is partially built but work still needs to be done. There are hundreds of stations contributing seismic information to the network. But a few areas aren’t covered and the technology to quickly warn the public is still being developed.

When the early warning system is in place, it very quickly will detect the size and location of an earthquake, then decide whether it should to send alerts to surrounding areas.

The goal is to able to provide public alerts beginning next year.

“That’s the goal, but it’s all subject to the funding,” he said.

ShakeAlert collaborators will also continue to train, educate and expand the pilot project. Currently about 60 organizations are signed up as beta testers, including transit agencies in Central and Southern California, water and gas companies, and at least one startup company that does things such as remotely open firehouse doors so they don’t get jammed shut during a quake.

The USGS has been working for the past 11 years to fund and develop ShakeAlert.

In 2014, the agency estimated it would require a $38.3 million investment to get ShakeAlert to the point of issuing public warnings on the West Coast, and $16.1 million each year to operate and maintain it.

The state of California recently committed $10 million to improve the California Earthquake Early Warning system. Oregon recently contributed nearly $1 million to enhance that state’s system.

©2017 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.