ShakeAlert earthquake warnings available in May for WA residents

The U.S. Geological Survey says an earthquake early warning system will be capable of delivering alerts directly to wireless devices in Washington in May and Oregon in March. 

The U.S. Geological Survey tells KXRO that starting March 11, ShakeAlert®-powered earthquake early warning alerts will be available for delivery directly to wireless devices in Oregon. 

California had already enabled ShakeAlert-powered alerts in October 2019.

The ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning system is a network of sensors that shares real-time information about the magnitude, location and expected shaking from earthquakes on the West Coast, sending it to cell phones and the internet. 

In addition, partners in the warning system will be able to use this information to initiate automatic protective actions such as stopping trains to prevent derailments and closing water valves to protect infrastructure.  

“ShakeAlert can save lives and reduce injuries by giving people time to take protective actions, such as moving away from hazardous areas and making sure to drop, cover and hold on. ShakeAlert complements existing products from the Advanced National Seismic System that contribute to earthquake risk reduction. “

For the first time, ShakeAlert-powered alerts will be delivered directly to wireless devices in Oregon starting on March 11, 2021.

Oregon will be the second state to ”go live,” following California on October 17, 2019. Washington state will join Oregon and California in May 2021, which will complete the wireless alert delivery rollout across the entire continental West Coast. 

For more than two years, a growing number of ShakeAlert technical partners in all three states have been using the ShakeAlert system for triggering automated actions to support public safety. Although ShakeAlert is operational in all three states, the USGS and its university and state partners are working to finish building the seismic network to support prompt earthquake detection. The network is now 70% complete for the West Coast, with 1,132 out of 1,675 seismic stations installed as of Jan. 31, 2021.  

“The rollout of public alerting for ShakeAlert in the Pacific Northwest is a major milestone in the evolution of this critical system and has the potential to provide users with life-saving warnings seconds before they experience damaging shaking in future earthquakes,” Gavin Hayes, USGS senior science advisor for earthquake and geologic hazards, said. “This represents a major achievement for the USGS, the ANSS and for our state and regional partners.” 

Earthquake early warning for the Pacific Northwest  

In 2012, the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which is an Advanced National Seismic System regional network operated by the USGS, the University of Washington and the University of Oregon, joined the earthquake early warning efforts that began in California in 2006.

Incorporation of the PNSN into ShakeAlert extended the USGS ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System across the entire U.S. mainland Pacific Coast.

The vast majority of these alerts will be for earthquakes smaller than M7. In these scenarios, ShakeAlert users who will experience strong (or worse) shaking should expect warning times of less than 10 seconds after which it becomes difficult to take protective actions because of the intense shaking.

In these quakes, there will be a region near the epicenter where shaking arrives before the alert. People should take protective actions as soon as they feel shaking whether they have received an alert yet or not.

Upcoming events   

To help residents of the Pacific Northwest learn how to use ShakeAlert, various events and resources have been scheduled over the next few months.    

  • February 18: Pacific Northwest ShakeAlert Ask Me Anything on Reddit   
  • February 25: Washington state ShakeAlert Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) demonstration    
  • March 11: ShakeAlert-powered alert delivery to wireless devices goes live in Oregon  
  • May 2021: ShakeAlert-powered alert delivery to wireless devices goes live in Washington 

On Thursday, Feb. 25 at 11 a.m. PST, the Washington Emergency Management Division and the USGS will jointly deliver a ShakeAlert-powered WEA test message through FEMA’s Integrated Public Alerting & Warning System across wireless devices in King, Pierce and Thurston counties.

This test coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Feb. 28, 2001, Nisqually earthquake,  Washington’s most recent damaging earthquake.

“There are a lot of people who remember the Nisqually earthquake and testing our earthquake early warning system is a great way for us to get ready for the rollout of public alerting to wireless devices in May,” said Maximilian Dixon, geologic hazards supervisor for the Washington Emergency Management Division. “Testing WEA distribution of ShakeAlert-powered alerts on Feb 25th is an important step before rolling out public alerting to wireless devices in May. This is all part of a monumental effort to reduce our state’s earthquake and tsunami risk.” 

To participate in this test, members of the public in these three counties will need to OPT IN.

The device may vibrate and/or make a distinctive sound and a message will appear in a text window on the screen. The WEA test message will say the following, depending on your phone’s language setting: 

Participation in a survey during the test will also help improve future ShakeAlert-powered alert delivery. For directions on how to opt in to the test and participate in the survey, visit