When an earthquake strikes the Cascadia subduction zone under the Pacific Ocean, it will shake most of the West Coast.
The US Geological Survey and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network on Tuesday ended the launch of a new early warning system that can notify cell phone users in the state that the vibration is about to start.
The system, called ShakeAlert, has been in development for 15 years, according to a press release. A prototype was released in 2016, and the system went into operation in California in 2019 and for Oregon in March in March. Now available in Washington state, the ShakeAlert system is online for more than 50 million residents of the nation’s most earthquake-prone area.
Mobile data will automatically notify users in the course of an earthquake as long as device settings are set to allow emergency alerts, public safety alerts, and public safety messages.
How it works?
ShakeAlert relies on real-time data from the Northwest Pacific seismic station sensors across the region.
When the seismic waves that cause vibration propagate during an earthquake, they are captured by those seismic stations located in public places such as schools and city-owned buildings. This data is fed into the USGS National Advanced Seismic System.
ShakeAlert technology can also be used to automate systems such as slowing train speeds to reduce the likelihood of deviations from rails, opening fire doors to ensure emergency response and closing valves to reduce leaks if gas or water pipelines are damaged, depending on the release.
The ShakeAlert system will continue to improve as more sensors, called seismometers, are added to the grid. One of the sensors is being installed at Conway School in Mount Vernon, Washington, an hour north of Seattle.
Superintendent Geoff Craffy said the Conway School Board approved the sensor placement at its April 26 meeting. This will be the thirteenth seismometer monitored by the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network in Skagit County, according to the network’s website.
The sensors may not look like much – “it’s basically a 20 x 20 box in our communications room,” says Cravi – but they can provide valuable information before a natural disaster strikes.
For the students of Conway, the latest seismometer can also provide some local data from which to learn.
“We hope to use the website with information about Conway as well as some surrounding sites for scientific activities,” said Craffy.
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