Share this story...
earthquake, warning, system
Latest News

Google searches prove devastating earthquake still top of mind in Washington

An early warning system to give people precious seconds before major shaking begins in an earthquake is still being tested in the U.S. (AP)

It’s clear that earthquakes are still top of mind for Western Washington residents.

One need only to look as far as the Google search bar to understand just how much interest there is.

As Estatly points out, “How to survive an earthquake?” is queried by Washingtonians in the Google search engine more frequently than any other state, including California. And that’s somewhat surprising, considering the fact that anxiety was high recently after a swarm of seismic activity prompted a warning of elevated risk for a San Andreas fault earthquake, and two faults were just found to be connected.

Related: Retiring seismologist says you’re more likely to be murdered than die in an earthquake

The search queries in Google were taken from the most common how-to questions over the past five years.

Of course, the “Big One” has been the topic of many dinner conversations well before 2011. That’s why an early warning system might be all the more important for those on the West Coast.

Though the early warning system, which is still in the testing phase, has only provided seconds of advanced warning at its best, it has become a high priority for the USGS and collaborating departments. The USGS recently awarded approximately $3.7 million to six universities to support transitioning the “ShakeAlert” system into a production system. The USGS also purchased about $1.5 million in new sensor equipment to expand and improve the system.

That alone could help quell some anxiety over the “Big One” that some have claimed is years overdue along the Cascadia Subduction Zone off Washington’s coast. What won’t help is the fact that the system isn’t ready and has been late to notify of seismic activity in the past. John Vidale noted on the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network’s Facebook page recently that the system is still being constructed, running on web and cellphone applications.

When it is complete, an early warning system in the U.S. could be similar to Japan’s. That system is aimed to mitigate earthquake-related damage by providing time to do thing such as slow trains and take cover before intense shaking begins. The Japan Meteorological Agency admits that the window of time from the announcement until the arrival of the main tremors is “very short.” That means a matter of seconds.

And it’s difficult to imagine that scientists will ever be able to predict an earthquake, at least with current technology. As LiveScience reports:

…despite decades of study, researchers can’t predict when an earthquake will strike — so there’s no way to evacuate people ahead of time or even give them a few minute’s warning.

Vidale told LiveScience that anyone who claims to be able to predict earthquakes isn’t being truthful.

So, despite all the advancement in science, the old drop, cover, and hold method may continue to be your best bet for survival.

Most Popular