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Upgraded Quake Warning System Will Alert Californians a Few Seconds Sooner

Upgraded Quake Warning System Will Alert Californians a Few Seconds Sooner

The collapsed balcony of a house after a 6.4-magnitude earthquake off Northern California, in Rio Dell, Calif., on Dec. 20, 2022. (Fred Greaves/Reuters)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

6/6/2024

Updated: 6/6/2024

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Californians could get faster earthquake alerts after scientists added new real-time satellite sensors to the state’s ShakeAlert system.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and its partners announced the upgrades June 5, which they say will help inform the public about potentially damaging quakes faster.
“While rare, earthquakes greater than magnitude 7 can have the greatest impact on human lives and infrastructure,” said Robert de Groot, a member of the USGS ShakeAlert Operations Team.
The USGS began developing the ShakeAlert system in 2006 and deployed it in California in 2019, expanding to Oregon and Washington in 2021. System alerts are triggered for quakes of magnitude 4.5 or higher.
Residents or visitors who have their location services turned on should receive an alert on their mobile devices a few seconds before major earthquakes strike.  The public safety tool reaches over 50 million residents and visitors in California, Oregon, and Washington.
The ShakeAlert system also triggers automatic actions, like slowing down trains to prevent derailments, opening firehouse doors before they are jammed shut, and closing valves to protect water systems.
System operators have now added a capability that uses data from real-time Global Navigation Satellite System sensors, which may speed up notifications and predict quakes more accurately, according to a press release issued by the USGS.
The new technology is expected to give residents a few more seconds to “drop, cover, and hold on” before the shaking begins, according to the USGS.
When the ShakeAlert seismic sensor addition is completed at the end of 2025, there will be a network of over 2,000 ShakeAlert stations operating in California, Oregon, and Washington, according to USGS.
To integrate the new satellite-linked components to the system, the USGS partnered with the National Science Foundation-funded EarthScope Consortium, the University of Washington, Central Washington University, University of California, Berkeley, and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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