EUGENE, Ore. -- Earthquakes cannot be predicted, but what if you could be alerted that an earthquake has started before you feel it?
A new app called ShakeAlert, which just launched today in Oregon, aims to accomplish this by quickly detecting the beginning of an earthquake and notifying those in the area that are expected to feel shaking.
Gov. Kate Brown has proclaimed March 11 as ShakeAlert Day in recognition of the early warning system being activated in the state. This day in history is also the 10th anniversary of the magnitude 9.1 Great Tohoku, Japan earthquake.
“One of my top priorities is to improve the state’s resilience from hazards like earthquakes, wildfires, and other disasters,” said Brown. “Thanks to support from the Oregon Legislature and our congressional delegation, Oregonians are safer today. When a Cascadia event happens, the critical seconds of notice ShakeAlert warnings provide will save lives and reduce damage to important lifeline systems.”
Robert de Groot from the USGS describes the process of how it all works: “So, an earthquake happens, generally pretty deep under the surface of the earth – many miles. And when the seismic waves from that event reach the surface, that’s when the seismometers pick them up. When those seismometers are moving, and what we’d like to have is four of them that actually pick up the shaking they move that information to a processing center.”
The processing center than determines if an alert should be sent out. But how do you make sure you receive the alerts?
“The big question that Oregonians are asking is, do I need the sign up? And the answer is yes, and no," de Groot said. "The no part is that if you already receive things like Amber Alerts on your phone, you’re getting those through what’s called the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system. You might want to check your phone to make sure your settings are correct, but if you’re already getting those alerts, you’ll likely get ShakeAlert powered alerts. The yes part in terms of getting other alerts, there are several other ways you can get alerts. There are two purpose-built apps, and one of them is called myShake, and the other is called Quake Alert USA. The third way is through Google, and Google has developed a way to deliver alerts directly through their operating system. So if you have a phone that is operating on Android you can get alerts through that operating system.”
It’s important to remember the system won’t be issuing alerts anytime an earthquake hits. Rather, it'll focus on the ones that are strong enough to be potentially damaging.
“What will happen is that alerts can begin to be delivered to phones for magnitude 5 earthquakes or larger. And alerts would be issued for anyone that could feel light shaking that may causes some damage, all the way to strong shaking," de Groot said.
If you also download one of the apps – you're going to get alerts for earthquakes that are magnitude 4.5 or larger.
If an earthquake alert is issued, the amount of time between you receiving the alert and actually feeling the shaking depends on many factors including how close you are to the epicenter of the earthquake, and how quickly your phone received the alert.
“It’s likely that people will get an alert for an earthquake that’s smaller and closer to them, and in that case most people will get only a few seconds or maybe no seconds at all. It just depends on factors such as how close you are to the epicenter of the earthquake. Or it could have something to do with where you are relative to the earthquake. So you may get a little bit of time but we want people to know you should either respond to the alert on your phone or the shaking that you feel," de Groot said.
Even though you can count on ShakeAlert to notify you as an earthquake hits – it’s important to stay prepared ahead of time.
“Shake alert is not going to take the place of what you already do for earthquakes. You should still have your disaster supply kit, know how to drop cover and hold on, you should do all the preparation that you’ve always done. Think of ShakeAlert as an additional tool in your toolbox," de Groot said.
For more information on the rollout of ShakeAlert and about the available mobile apps, visit the Oregon ShakeAlert website.