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Earthquake Warning System Expands to All of West Coast

An earthquake warning system that's been 15 years in the making is now available along the entire West Coast, the most earthquake-prone region in the U.S., the United States Geological Survey announced.

(TNS) — An earthquake early warning system that's been 15 years in the making is now available to more than 50 million people along the entire West Coast, the most earthquake-prone region in the U.S., the United States Geological Survey announced Tuesday.

The ShakeAlert system, which allows residents to receive earthquake warnings online and on their cellphones seconds before they feel any shaking, went live in Washington state Tuesday. The system was already active in California and Oregon.

The system's debut in Washington completes the USGS' West Coast alert program rollout, which began with California in 2019 and expanded to Oregon in March, officials said. People in these states can now receive FEMA alerts through third-party phone apps — such as California's MyShake app — or through mobile text messages. (Click here for more information about how to make sure you receive these alerts)

The data since 2018 has been used in cities to trigger automated actions such as the slowing down of trains to avoid derailments and to close valves to protect water and gas systems.

"This early warning system singularly will not solve all of our earthquake problems, but it's one more tool in the toolbox for earthquake readiness," Robert de Groot, the education and outreach coordinator for ShakeAlert at the USGS, told The Chronicle Tuesday. "It can reduce risk in the three most vulnerable states and cost us quite a bit less in terms of earthquake damage and casualties over the long-term."

The ShakeAlert system is a network of motion sensors located about 10 feet below the ground that collect and share information about the magnitude, location and shaking of earthquakes that strike the West Coast. This information is available for government agencies and municipalities to deliver public alerts to mobile phones and develop applications that trigger automatic actions and messages, according to the USGS.

The system detects earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.5 or bigger, but automatic alerts are only triggered for quakes that are magnitude 4.0 or higher because "that's where things start getting significant in terms of shaking," de Groot said.

Although the USGS cannot predict when and where earthquakes will occur, the system provides seconds of warning that inform people to "Drop, Cover and Hold On" or move to a safer location ahead of a quake. People at the epicenter of an earthquake will receive a notification, but not likely before they feel the shaking, de Groot noted.

" USGS science is the backbone of hazard assessment, notification, and response capabilities for communities nationwide so they can plan for, and bounce back from, natural disasters," said David Applegate, the USGS acting director, in a statement. "Systems powered by ShakeAlert can turn mere seconds into opportunities for people to take life-saving protective actions."

De Groot said the goal is to build a total of 1,675 seismograph stations along the West Coast by 2025. So far, 70% of those stations have been completed to support the ShakeAlert-powered cell phone alerts, a project that took 15 years of planning and development, he said.

Scientists will continue to improve the alert system by expanding the area of delivery and improving messaging speeds, the USGS said.

© 2021 The Daily Times (Farmington, N.M.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.