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PNW’s Shake Alert earthquake warning system awarded $10.4 million

Washington's Shake Alert system in action (PNSN)

The pair of minor earthquakes that struck the Puget Sound in early July provided a test of the Shake Alert early warning system at the UW’s Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which functioned as it was designed, giving roughly two to 10 seconds of warning before shaking began.

That timing will likely improve further as the U.S. Geological Survey announced $10.4 million in funding to the PNSN, where the Shake Alert system is being developed and tested. It will go toward the installation of 104 new seismic stations in Washington state and 44 in Oregon, as well as support more advanced detection of earthquakes before they begin, and additional efforts to help the warnings reach people and organizations in time.

Pacific Northwest earthquake tracker

“This investment in the PNSN represents a major increase in federal support for earthquake monitoring in the Cascadia region,” said Harold Tobin, director of the PNSN and professor in the UW’s Department of Earth and Space Sciences in a statement.

“At the end of the two years of funding we anticipate having essentially doubled the number of seismic stations across our whole region that contribute to real-time earthquake early warning. This would allow for full public alerts of any potentially damaging earthquakes, across our entire region of Washington and Oregon, by the end of the two-year period.”

PNW’s Shake Alert system passes with flying colors after Friday quakes

The system functions by detecting the initial sound waves produced where the earthquake begins, then issues an alert on the size and location, with the hopes of giving the public potential crucial seconds or minutes of warning before the shaking begins. That extra time could allow people to seek shelter or pull off the road, and allow critical facilities to trigger loss-reduction measures, like shutting off a water valve in time.

“It will enable us to rapidly build out our network to produce faster and more accurate alerts for Cascadia Region earthquakes,” Tobin said.

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