ShakeAlert System Activation

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District is one of the first utilities in Washington State to activate earthquake early warning system

On July 22, Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District activated a pilot-scale earthquake early warning system, known as ShakeAlert®, at one of its water reservoirs.  With its activation, the District is among the first utilities in Washington State to implement the system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey along with a coalition of state and university partners throughout the West Coast.

The ShakeAlert system consists of hundreds of seismometers deployed throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. These sensors send ground motion information to data processing centers in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay area, and the Los Angeles area. The system uses its sensors to detect and analyze the “P” waves that occur in advance of actual shaking. Through computer modeling, it determines the magnitude, intensity, and geographic reach of the earthquake and then rapidly transmits a “ShakeAlert” signal to the surrounding region prior to the earthquake reaching those locations. ShakeAlert is designed to protect people, equipment, and delicate operations from injury or damage during shaking by notifying the public and triggering automatic systems to initiate actions in advance of an earthquake. Additional information regarding the ShakeAlert program is available at www.shakealert.org.

The ShakeAlert system is not fully funded or implemented at this point, but is available for pilot-scale testing to select agencies, including the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District. The system installed at the District’s reservoir is designed to automatically close valves to the reservoir when a ShakeAlert is received, thereby preserving water in the reservoir should water mains be ruptured during the pending earthquake.

General Manager Justin Clary said, “The District is honored to have been selected to participate in the initial deployment of this state-of-the-art technology. We hope that our participation will support continued development and refinement of the ShakeAlert system, which will ultimately provide for protection of the public and infrastructure throughout the West Coast against future earthquakes.”

Washington Emergency Management Division and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network are actively seeking other pilot users, which could be businesses, utilities, or schools. Even a few seconds warning would provide enough time to trigger automatic reactions: slow light rail systems and trains, shut down natural gas lines, trigger doctors to stop surgical procedures in hospitals, among other automated reactions. Potential uses for ShakeAlert are widespread and diverse, for example, a school district might connect its intercoms and announcement capabilities to a ShakeAlert warning message feed. This would allow students and staff in the school buildings to Drop, Cover and Hold On, reducing injuries prior to the shaking. For more information on Earthquake Early Warning or how to become a pilot user of the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system, please contact:

  • Maximilian Dixon – WA State EMD Geologic Hazards Supervisor, Maximilian.Dixon@mil.wa.gov (253) 512-7017
  • Bill Steele – PNSN, Director of Outreach & Information Services, wsteele@uw.edu (206) 685-5880

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