Technology ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system goes live in Washington state — here’s how it works
USGS earthquake warning system expands to cover entire West Coast
The US Geological Survey's earthquake early warning system now covers the entire West Coast. As of Tuesday, residents in Washington will start receiving mobile alerts when an earthquake is about to hit, giving them a few moments to prepare. The ShakeAlert system debuted in Los Angeles in 2018. It expanded to the rest of California the following year and Oregon this past March. “Systems powered by ShakeAlert can turn mere seconds into opportunities for people to take life-saving protective actions or for applications to trigger automated actions that protect critical infrastructure," USGS acting director David Applegate said in a statement.
The news:, an automated system designed to warn people that an earthquake has occurred and shaking is imminent, is being activated in Washington state today to complete a West Coast rollout of the technology.
How it works: The alert system, operated by the U.S Geological Survey in cooperation with the University of Washington-based Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, does not predict earthquakes before they happen, but is designed to rapidly detect ones that have already begun. Ground motion sensors near the earthquake feel the ground shaking and relay that information to a data processing center. The precise location of the quake is determined and ShakeAlert algorithms quickly estimate the strength and areas that will likely feel shaking.
Japan issues tsunami warning after major quake rocks country
Japan on Saturday issued a tsunami warning after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit the northeastern coast of the country, with shaking felt hundreds of miles from the epicenter. The Japanese Meteorological Agency reported that the quake hit the coast of Miyagi Prefecture just after 6 p.m. local time, with a depth of approximately 40 miles, according to Reuters.
What you’ll see: People connected to the Wireless Emergency Alert system (the same system that produces AMBER alerts), will now get earthquake alerts for events of magnitude 5 or greater, using a similar interface,. The smartphone alert will advise people to drop, cover and hold. Warning times range from a few seconds to tens of seconds depending on your distance to the epicenter.
Android phone users will get an alert built into the phone’s operating system. There is no downloadable app, but you can learn more about how to get alerts.
Where else is it used?: ShakeAlert, which is similar to existing early warning systems in Mexico and Japan, began sending alerts in California in 2019 and in Oregon in March 2021.
Big threat: Washington state has the second largest earthquake risk, behind California, of all 50 states. With Washington now online, the system will issue warnings to millions more people at risk from the largest possible earthquake in the lower 48 states — a rupture of the offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone. The 700-mile fault runs from California’s Cape Mendocino to the tip of Canada’s Vancouver Island.
Fact check: Sinkhole caused a Missouri lake to drain — again
Here's what you need to know about the sinkhole that partially drained a man-made lake in Missouri over the weekend.Pictures of the phenomenon quickly spread on social media.
Other uses for system: The USGS partners with agencies to turn the information into public alerts, such as through notifications in smartphone apps and announcements on PA systems. Other technical partners can use the ShakeAlert data to take automated action such as:
- Slowing trains to prevent derailment.
- Stopping elevators at the nearest floor and opening their doors.
- Opening firehouse doors so they are not stuck shut.
- Throttling water utility valves to prevent emptying of reservoirs.
- Activating backup generators at hospitals to ensure continued service.
More work to do: The sensor network is only about 65% complete for Washington state, with about 230 seismic stations. Oregon has some 155 stations providing data. The USGS and state and university partners will be adding more seismometers to the network through late 2025 to further enhance the system’s capability.
HappyLaunch Day, Washington! We'll let you know when the system is live.
There will be NO test today so you will NOT be notified when it goes live (except by tweet from us & the media).
Want to know how it all works?explains here
— WA Emergency Management ???? (@waEMD)
Josh joust, wing shortage, helping Canada: News from around our 50 states .
How the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting every stateStart the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox each morning.