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Initial Earthquake Early Warning System Test

Feb 23

Written by:
2/23/2021 9:26 AM  RssIcon

For this Sunday’s 20th anniversary of the Nisqually Earthquake, the University of Washington has created created a simulation based on that historic quake.

They will use this simulation as an initial test of the region’s new Early Earthquake Warning System.

You can learn how to opt-in to these new alerts by going to: https://mil.wa.gov/alerts

To receive this test message, you need to:

  • Be physically located in King, Pierce or Thurston counties
  • Have WEA 2.0 or 3.0 capable devices that are powered on
  • Have OPTED IN to receive WEA test messages
Get Involved

After opting in, we invite you to provide feedback — including reporting whether and how the test alert was delivered to your device.

  • Sign up here to join a virtual WEA Watch Party between 10:30 and 11:15 a.m., Feb. 25. At this virtual event, facilitated by ShakeAlert® scientists and educators, you will have the opportunity to learn more about ShakeAlert®, participate in the WEA test and contribute feedback and citizen-science data that will help improve future alert delivery.
  • Take the participation survey created jointly by our agency, the Joint Centre for Disaster Research at Massey University in New Zealand and the U.S. Geological Survey. Your participation in this study is entirely voluntary and you may elect to refuse to answer any question in the survey or choose to withdraw from the study at any time.
What is the Earthquake Early Warning system and when will it come to Washington?

Our state hopes to have an Earthquake Early Warning system powered by ShakeAlert® open for public use in May of 2021.

The ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system in Washington state will be providing public alerts in May of 2021. Our partners on the West Coast have been working on earthquake early warning for quite some time as the monitoring system continues to be expanded and testing continues.

The ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning system quickly detects earthquakes after they have already begun.If an earthquake fits the right profile of magnitude and shaking intensity, the US Geological Survey (USGS) issues a ShakeAlert Message and makes it available to distribution partners, like WEA, who deliver alerts to areas that could feel weak or greater shaking.

This may potentially provide people seconds to protect themselves, such as drop, cover and hold on.

The Earthquake Early Warning system is already operational for some automatic action systems such as water and utility valve shut off and public address systems. The Earthquake Early Warning system detects earthquakes quickly, so alerts can be delivered to trigger automated actions, such as slowing a train, opening fire station doors, or telling people to take protective action before shaking begins. ShakeAlert® messages are sent from the U.S. Geological Survey and are delivered to mobile devices on several different systems.

If shaking is expected at your location, you may get a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) on your mobile device, just like an AMBER alert, or you may get an alert as a public announcement. The Wireless Emergency Alert system broadcasts public safety messages over the commercial cellular system.

Messages are sent by alerting authorities through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which confirms messages before sending them to commercial mobile service providers for distribution to customers.

ShakeAlert® does not predict when or where an earthquake will occur or how long it will last. Depending on your location, alerts may not occur before shaking begins. It takes time for alerts to be delivered to a mobile device, so areas closest to the earthquake epicenter may not receive an alert.

As soon as you feel shaking, or get an alert, take protective action: Drop, cover, and hold on. The system does not tell you when shaking will start nor how strong the shaking will be. When you receive an alert, take action to protect yourself immediately!

ShakeAlert infrastructure is already in place along most of the West Coast, and is operational for automatic-action systems such as water utility valve shutoffs and starting back-up generators. It can also prevent cascading failures in the aftermath of an event. For example, isolating utilities before shaking starts can reduce the number of fire initiations

In the case of a real earthquake, what would a WEA alert look like?

All WEA alerts, regardless of type, behave the same. The device makes a distinctive notification sound and the message pops up in a text window on the screen.
Some devices with text-to-voice capability may read out the message text.

When you receive a real alert, the message will say:

  • English: Earthquake Detected! Drop, Cover, Hold On. Protect Yourself. -USGS ShakeAlert
  • Spanish: Terremoto detectado! Agachese, cubrase, sujetese. Protejase. -USGS ShakeAlert

It is important that you use the time to take protective action, such as drop, cover and hold on. The system does not tell you when shaking will start nor how strong the shaking will be. When you receive an alert, take action to protect yourself immediately!

    These videos provide more information and tips to take protective action:

    Learn how the Earthquake Early Warning system works via PNSN and the official ShakeAlert® page.

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