Photo / Courtesy from Marc Biundo, University of Washington.

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Starting March 11, 2021, ShakeAlert-powered earthquake early warning alerts will be available for delivery directly to wireless devices in Oregon.

In May 2021, Washington state will follow suit and complete the ShakeAlert public alerting rollout across the entire West Coast. California enabled ShakeAlert-powered alerts in October 2019.

As massive slabs of Earth squish into and grind past each other off the coast of the Pacific Northwest, many people may wonder when they will feel ensuing earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Although the USGS cannot predict where and when future earthquakes will occur, the bureau, along with a team of organizations, helped create a system that can provide vital seconds of warning that an earthquake is happening and shaking is imminent.

How it works

The ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning system is a network of sensors that collects and shares real-time information about the magnitude, location and expected shaking from earthquakes on the West Coast to distribution partners who then deliver alerts via cell phones and the internet. Partners can also initiate automatic protective actions such as stopping trains to prevent derailments and closing water valves to protect infrastructure.

ShakeAlert can save lives and reduce injuries by giving people time to take protective actions, such as moving away from hazardous areas and making sure to drop, cover and hold on, according to the USGS. ShakeAlert complements existing products from the Advanced National Seismic System that contribute to earthquake risk reduction.

For the first time, ShakeAlert-powered alerts will be delivered directly to wireless devices in Oregon starting on March 11, 2021. Oregon will be the second state to ”go live,” following California on Oct. 17, 2019. Washington state will join Oregon and California in May 2021, which will complete the wireless alert delivery rollout across the entire continental West Coast.

For more than two years, a growing number of ShakeAlert technical partners in all three states have been using the ShakeAlert system for triggering automated actions to support public safety. Although ShakeAlert is operational in all three states, the USGS and its university and state partners are working to finish building the seismic network to support prompt earthquake detection. The network is now 70% complete for the West Coast, with 1,132 out of 1,675 seismic stations installed as of Jan. 31, 2021.

“The rollout of public alerting for ShakeAlert in the Pacific Northwest is a major milestone in the evolution of this critical system and has the potential to provide users with life-saving warnings seconds before they experience damaging shaking in future earthquakes,” Gavin Hayes, USGS senior science advisor for earthquake and geologic hazards, said. “This represents a major achievement for the USGS, the ANSS and for our state and regional partners.”

Upcoming events

To help residents of the Pacific Northwest learn how to use ShakeAlert, a team of organizations is rolling out various events and resources over the next few months.

February 18: Pacific Northwest ShakeAlert Ask Me Anything on Reddit

February 25: Washington state ShakeAlert Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) demonstration

March 11: ShakeAlert-powered alert delivery to wireless devices goes live in Oregon

May: ShakeAlert-powered alert delivery to wireless devices goes live in Washington

Pacific Northwest ShakeAlert Ask Me Anything on Reddit

On Feb. 18, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. PST, ShakeAlert partners will host a Reddit Ask Me Anything focused on ShakeAlert in the Pacific Northwest.

Representatives from the USGS, Oregon Office of Emergency Management, Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, University of Oregon and Washington State Emergency Management Division will answer questions related to the Washington State WEA demonstration, Oregon and Washington alert delivery rollouts, and anything else that relates to ShakeAlert earthquake early warning in the Pacific Northwest.

ShakeAlert Wireless Emergency Alert demonstration in Washington

On Thursday, Feb. 25 at 11 a.m. PST, the Washington Emergency Management Division and the USGS will jointly deliver a ShakeAlert-powered WEA test message through FEMA’s Integrated Public Alerting & Warning System across wireless devices in King, Pierce and Thurston counties. This test coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Feb. 28, 2001, Nisqually earthquake, which was Washington's most recent damaging earthquake. WEA is one of multiple methods used by the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system that will provide public alerting in Washington state beginning in May of this year.

The Washington Emergency Management Division is excited to test the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system and complete it for the West Coast.

“There are a lot of people who remember the Nisqually earthquake and testing our earthquake early warning system is a great way for us to get ready for the rollout of public alerting to wireless devices in May,” said Maximilian Dixon, geologic hazards supervisor for the Washington Emergency Management Division. “Testing WEA distribution of ShakeAlert-powered alerts on Feb 25th is an important step before rolling out public alerting to wireless devices in May. This is all part of a monumental effort to reduce our state’s earthquake and tsunami risk.”

To participate in this test, members of the public in these three counties will need to OPT IN. The device may vibrate and/or make a distinctive sound and a message will appear in a text window on the screen. The WEA test message will say the following, depending on your phone’s language setting:

English: TEST of the Earthquake Alert System. ( TEST -USGS ShakeAlert


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