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New Earthquake Alert System Rolls Out In Oregon, Washington


First responders rescue dummies from crumpled cars during the Cascadia Rising earthquake simulation in 2016.

First responders rescue dummies from crumpled cars during the Cascadia Rising earthquake simulation in 2016.

Cassandra Profita/EarthFix

An early warning system for earthquakes is expanding to Oregon and Washington — thanks to a group of universities and government agencies.

California has had the “ShakeAlert” system for a couple of years. And depending on where an earthquake hits, it can give nearby cities a warning of up to a minute or two. That’s enough for a train to stop, a lift to open, or for people to get out of a building.

University of Oregon professor Doug Toomey said a small network of sensors is now installed in Oregon and Washington, so an earthquake can be distinguished from, for example, a passing truck.

Toomey said a full network would cost about $38 million.

“It’s being rolled out slowly because we don’t have that amount of funds yet,” he said. “We’ve been lobbying at the federal and state levels over the past several years to increase the funding for ShakeAlert.”

The hope is that in the future, there will be enough sensors to justify a phone app so the general public can get earthquake warnings.

Some public utilities like EWEB in Eugene have bought their own sensors — so they can switch off dams and generators during a big shake.

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