Salem, OR—Salem, OR – February 25, 2021 – Wildfires, floods, volcanoes and earthquakes: Oregon has its share of natural hazards. Each of these hazards presents unique challenges, but one of the biggest challenges for earthquake preparedness is unpredictability. Earthquakes strike without warning, causing widespread damage in a matter of seconds.
Fortunately, there is a preparedness tool, ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning, coming to Oregon on March 11. ShakeAlert does not predict earthquakes. Rather, it uses a network of sensors to detect an earthquake that has just begun. Data from the sensors are used by ShakeAlert processing centers to calculate the estimated quake magnitude and intensity. Alert distribution providers (e.g. operators of purpose-built apps) create an alert which can be delivered to wireless devices – in a matter of seconds – potentially reaching device users before the shaking does. In the seconds between receiving an alert and feeling shaking, people can protect themselves by dropping, covering and holding on.
“One of the reasons earthquakes are unpredictable is due to a phenomenon called ‘stick-slip,’” explains Jenny Crayne, an educator with the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), which is supporting outreach and education related to ShakeAlert. The push and pull of plate tectonics puts pressure on rocks within the earth. But rather than glide smoothly along, the rock “sticks,” held fast by friction. Sooner or later, and without notice, pressure overcomes this friction and the rock “slips,” resulting in an earthquake.
By studying past earthquakes and by mapping and monitoring movement along plate boundaries and faults, seismologists can identify areas, like the Pacific Northwest, with a high earthquake hazard, explains Crayne. Seismologists can also look at recurrence interval (the average amount of time between quakes) to estimate the likelihood of an earthquake occurring in the future. But probabilities aren’t predictions; no one knows exactly where the next earthquake will occur, or when.
This is why ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning is such a valuable preparedness tool. By rapidly detecting earthquakes and deploying alerts, the System can offer live-saving seconds for individuals. ShakeAlert-powered alerts can also be used to trigger automated actions such as closing a gas valve or slowing a train. These actions can prevent cascading infrastructure failures in the aftermath of an earthquake.
ShakeAlert is an easy-to-use tool. Beginning March 11, 2021, mobile devices in Oregon will be able to receive ShakeAlert-powered alerts via Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA), just like a severe weather or AMBER alert. All WEA alerts, regardless of type, behave the same. The device makes a distinctive notification sound and the alert pops up in a text window on the screen. Some devices with text-to-voice capability may read out the message text.
In the case of an earthquake alert, the WEA text will read: “Earthquake Detected! Drop, Cover, Hold On. Protect Yourself. -USGS ShakeAlert.” This message is available in Spanish for phones set to receive alerts in that language.
ShakeAlert-powered alerts can also be delivered through purpose-built apps; newer Android phones have ShakeAlert capacity built into the operating system, offering a third alert delivery route.
“ShakeAlert can offer critical seconds of advance warning before we feel the impacts of shaking from an earthquake,” says Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps. “These precious seconds allow people to take protective actions to increase their chances of being disaster survivors rather than disaster victims.”
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