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Washington’s new earthquake warning system is live

Karl Hagel and Pat McChesney, field engineers with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network team at the University of Washington, install earthquake monitoring equipment on the slopes of Mount St. Helens, with Mount Hood in the distance. (Credit: Marc Biundo, University of Washington. Courtesy of Marc Biundo/University of Washington)

If an earthquake hits Washington, the state’s new ShakeAlert system will let you know seconds before you even feel the shaking.

ShakeAlert launched on Tuesday, May 4.

Track Washington’s earthquakes with the Earthquake Tracker

“Even with a few seconds of warning, people’s behavior is different,” said Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “Instead of panicking when they feel the shaking start, not knowing what to do, it gives you that moment to collect your thoughts, take those life safety operations, and drop, cover, and hold on.”

Tobin said you can get the alerts by turning on “emergency alerts” in your phone’s settings.

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.

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.

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