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Washington earthquake warning system goes live in May, but won’t be finished until 2025

ShakeAlert goes live in Washington on May 4. (Courtesy photo)

Washington’s ShakeAlert earthquake early warning network will officially go live statewide on May 4, as the final piece of the system’s West Coast rollout.

Washington still isn’t ready for next big earthquake

ShakeAlert is designed to send out a warning text message to residents in the area of an earthquake seconds before it arrives, providing vital time within a small window to take protective action.

Washington tested out the system in King, Pierce, and Thurston counties in February to middling results. During the test, the goal was to have people receive a warning text within five seconds of the system sending it out. Anecdotally, people reported receiving texts up to 20 seconds after the system sent them out or, in some cases, not at all.

“Clearly there needs to be improvements,” Pacific Northwest Seismic Network’s Bill Steele told MyNorthwest in early March. “I think that most of the people had latencies far longer than we want to see — that’s not going to be useful as the prime warning system.”

The state’s seismic sensor network is also only 65% installed, and will likely not be finished until “late 2025,” according to Washington’s Emergency Management Division (EMD). Because of that, the state acknowledges that more is needed to “improve the delivery speed of alerts to mobile phones for all earthquakes,” and that “there remains more work to do” to meet that goal.

Why a Nisqually-type earthquake is far more likely than ‘the Big One’

The hope with having the system go live regardless of the fact that it’s not fully built out is to at least have something in place should an earthquake occur.

“We all know an earthquake could strike at any time,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a written release. “An Earthquake Early Warning system could provide the critical time needed for Washingtonians to drop, cover and hold on. It has the potential to save lives and reduce damage to critical infrastructure.”

The EMD will be hosting a webinar at 10 a.m. on Thursday, April 29, to “present key information” about the ShakeAlert system’s launch, and provide information for anyone who’d like to learn more about how it works, and how to ensure you receive a warning text in the event of an earthquake. You can access the webinar at this link.

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