Like its California neighbor, Oregon is subject to earthquakes, originating both closer to home and through the ripple effect across the Pacific Ocean. “Shake Alert,” an earthquake early warning system, has just become available to residents, reports Tremblor.net. State agencies and universities worked with the U.S. Geological Survey to create the system, giving recipients more time to prepare for a quake.
Contributor Gabriel Lotto, University of Washington’s (UW) Engagement Facilitator, suggested that people sign up for multiple alerts. The team cautioned that the alerts activate when a tremor is detected; they are not proactive earthquake predictors. “You don’t want to spend the first few seconds of shaking wondering what’s happening,” said Lotto. “You want to immediately drop, cover and hold on.”
To cover all the bases, the Shake Alert team recommended that mobile devices be set up to include Wireless Emergency Alerts which originate from the closest cell tower. Apps like QuakeAlertUSA send alerts based on location services and relay them back to mobile app and Android users. A drawback to any of the alerts, said Lotto, is that a person who is right on top of a quake site will receive the alert as the event is happening.
Althea Rizzo, Shake Alert contributor and Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management Geologic Hazards Program Coordinator, noted, “[The alerts are] absolutely not a replacement for doing the seismic retrofit that we so desperately need here in Oregon.”
In addition to granting people valuable moments of extra reaction time, Shake Alert applications are also being developed to automatically address systems that can suffer and cause long term problems when an earthquake occurs. Dan Ervin, an engineer with Varius Inc., said that his company has been tasked with using the alerts to lead to automated responses that will do things like shut off water valves. Broken water pipes in the aftermath of an earthquake can lead to both flooding problems and water shortages.
“That kills people. That’s not just an inconvenience … with earthquake early warning, there is a potential to have no water shortages,” said Ervin. It can take 30 – 90 days after an earthquake to replenish a water supply that has bled out due to damaged pipes. Employing tools like Shake Alert can make the recovery easier to manage.