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Washington Moves One Step Closer To Earthquake Early Warning System

Simone Alicea
Pacific Northwest Seismic Network Director John Vidale demonstrates the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system in the group's office at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Washington state is one step closer to a widespread earthquake warning system.

Scientists along the West Coast have been developing ShakeAlert for about a decade. It can warn about an earthquake between a few seconds and a couple minutes before it happens.

On Monday, the U.S. Geological Survey announced that pilot projects in Washington in Oregon can now use ShakeAlert.

Until now, scientists and engineers here could only observe what the system was saying.

"There are two pilots [projects] that are now getting permission to go ahead and use the information," said Pacific Northwest Seismic Network Director John Vidale.

For example, an engineering firm in Bothell wants to keep city water supplies safe by connecting ShakeAlert to valves. The idea is the valves can close when the alert goes off, keeping water in reservoirs in case pipes burst during an earthquake.

Such projects have been in development in California since 2016.

But earthquake warnings won't be coming to the general public any time soon.

"It'll take a long time for this thing to be fully built out and useful. We're also looking for the time to make sure the system doesn't malfunction," Vidale said.

In addition to the early warning system, state emergency management officials say there also needs to be more research into how best to direct people when the alerts do become more widespread and more earthquake safety education in general.

A Seattle native and former KNKX intern, Simone Alicea spent four years as a producer and reporter at KNKX. She earned her Bachelor's of Journalism from Northwestern University and covered breaking news for the Chicago Sun-Times. During her undergraduate career, she spent time in Cape Town, South Africa, covering metro news for the Cape Times.