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The Washington earthquake warning system went into operation in May, but it won’t end until 2025


ShakeAlert goes live in Washington on May 4. (Courtesy photo)

ShakeAlert Washington’s Earthquake Early Warning Network will be officially released statewide on May 4, as the final piece of the system’s West Coast launch.

Washington is still not prepared for the next major earthquake

ShakeAlert is designed to send a warning text message to residents in an earthquake area seconds before it arrives, providing vital time inside a small window for preventive action.

Washington tested the system in King, Pierce and Thurston Counties in February with moderate results. During testing, the goal was for people to receive a warning text within five seconds of sending the system. According to anecdotal accounts, people reported receiving text messages up to 20 seconds after the system sent them or, in some cases, never sent them at all.

“It’s clear that improvements are needed,” Bill Steele of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network told MyNorthwest in early March. “I think most people have much longer transition times than we want to see – that wouldn’t be useful as a major warning system.”

Only 65% ​​of the state’s seismic sensor network has been installed, and it will likely not be completed until “late 2025,” according to the Washington Department of Emergency Management (EMD). Because of this, the country acknowledges that more is needed “to improve the speed of delivery of alerts to cell phones for all earthquakes,” and that “there is still more work to be done” to achieve this goal.

Why is a Nisqually type earthquake much more likely than a large earthquake?

The hope that the system will operate regardless of the fact that it is not fully built is at least something in place in the event of an earthquake.

“We all know an earthquake can strike at any time,” Governor Jay Inslee said in a written statement. “An earthquake early warning system can provide the critical time Washington people need to drop, cover, and hang on. It has the potential to save lives and reduce damage to critical infrastructure.”

EMD will be hosting a webinar at 10am on Thursday, April 29th, to “provide background information” about the launch of ShakeAlert, and provide information to anyone who wants to learn more about how it works, and how you can ensure you receive a warning text in the event of an earthquake. You can access the webinar at this link.


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