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Earthquake Early Warning Implementation Examples across the West Coast

Special Districts Association of Oregon is partnering with ShakeAlert®, the United States Earthquake Early Warning System, to inform members on earthquake risk in Oregon and what they can do to mitigate damage from earthquake shaking. With the March 2021 public rollout of the ShakeAlert System in Oregon, let’s continue discussions by reviewing current examples of earthquake early warning implementation and how they positively impact our communities.

How Are Partners of the ShakeAlert® System Using Earthquake Early Warning Today?
With publicly available earthquake early warning alerts now available, it’s time to start thinking about what to do next. How can you communicate ShakeAlert® to your community? Can you invest in automated alerting? How will you use the time provided to you before shaking starts to take effective action?

ShakeAlerts can be distributed through a variety of means - like smart phone app push notifications, public address systems, email, and by computer-to-computer messages for automatic control of systems. Automated actions triggered by a ShakeAlert are extremely important - these resilient actions lessen the immediate and secondary impacts from a large earthquake and promote a quicker return to normal operations... and daily life. Most entities already have the infrastructure in place to receive earthquake early warning alerts. They just need a connection to the ShakeAlert System.

Entities across the West Coast, through the ShakeAlert Technical Partnership, are using USGS ShakeAlert data to prompt a sequence of automated actions upon receiving an alert. Such examples include: 

Upon receiving a ShakeAlert... 

The City of Grants Pass, Public Works Department in Oregon closes valves at water reservoirs and shuts off waterways. This automated action will prevent water loss from pipes that will inevitably burst during shaking. The city will be able to save water and distribute it to the public after shaking stops.

The Stanwood-Camano School District in Washington alerts students, teachers, and staff over the school’s PA system. This automated action allows people to get to a safe place prior to feeling shaking. 

Like the Stanwood-Camano School District, The Santa Monica Library in southern California alerts patrons and staff via their overhead speakers, instructing library patrons and staff to Drop, Cover, and Hold On before shaking arrives.

The Menlo Park Fire Department in northern California sends an alert over the station’s alerting system, shuts off gas-operated appliances, turns on emergency lighting, and opens apparatus bay doors. These automated actions allow firefighters to get to safety, prevent possible gas leaks, and allow easy deployment of equipment by ensuring apparatus bay doors don’t malfunction or jam shut because of shaking.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit Authority (BART) in northern California decreases the speed of trains, some traveling up to 70 mph. This automated action can prevent derailment and save passengers from potential injury.

If the ShakeAlert System is available publicly in Oregon, why invest in a ShakeAlert Technical Partnership?

Though earthquake early warning alerts are available in Oregon, a public alert system, well, does just that - alerts the public.  It does not trigger automated infrastructure actions that can prevent water loss, train derailment, or gas shut off. So, while people in Oregon will be alerted to shaking by their cell phone, to be truly resilient, entities across Oregon still need to take automated action to prevent immediate loss and secondary hazards. In addition, ShakeAlert Technical Partners have access to detailed earthquake information and more freedom to take action as they define. 

Public Alerting

Public receives an EEW alert via their smart phone from a Wireless Emergency Alert System, App, or Push Notification.

The alert consists of a basic alert message: “Earthquake! Earthquake! Expect Shaking Soon. Drop, Cover, and Hold On. Protect Yourself Now.”

Alerts are sent only for earthquakes of magnitude 4.5 or greater and where shaking intensity will be felt at MMI 3.0 or greater.

Automated Action (Technical Partners)

People/Things receive an EEW alert by a variety of mechanisms which in turn can take a variety of actions automatically. E.g. send an alert over a PA system, slow a train.

The alert contains information on earthquake characteristics (magnitude, depth, location, certainty) and earthquake effects (expected ground motion, or shaking intensity, and time until shaking arrives).

The Technical Partner can tailor the alert message to specific staff or job sites.

The Technical Partner defines what magnitude and shaking intensity threshold to alert their systems and staff.

So, how does an entity become a ShakeAlert Technical Partner and begin taking automated action to reduce infrastructure damage, potential injury or loss of life, and prevent secondary hazards? Interested entities can develop their own automated alert delivery solution via a ShakeAlert Technical Partnership, or invest in an Approved USGS Technical Partner's solution.  Learn more about how your entity can become a ShakeAlert Technical Partner.