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USGS Awards $4.9 Million to Advance the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System on West Coast

August 14, 2017

The U.S. Geological Survey awarded approximately $4.9 million this week to six universities and a university-governed non-profit, to support transitioning the west coast “ShakeAlert” earthquake early warning system into a production system.

The awards are for a new set of two-year cooperative agreements with California Institute of Technology, Central Washington University, University of California, Berkeley, University of Oregon, University of Washington, University of Nevada, Reno and UNAVCO, Inc.

Additionally, the USGS has purchased about $1 million in new sensor equipment to expand and improve the ShakeAlert system. These efforts, as well as internal work that the USGS is conducting, are possible because of $10.2 million in funding to the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program for ShakeAlert provided by Congress earlier this year.

An earthquake early warning system can give people a precious few seconds to stop what they are doing and take protective actions before the severe shaking waves from an earthquake arrive.  Under the new cooperative agreements, the USGS and its seven university and non-profit partners will collaborate to improve the ShakeAlert system’s sensor and telemetry infrastructure across the west coast of the United States. ShakeAlert is a new product of the USGS Advanced National Seismic System, a federation of national and regional earthquake monitoring networks throughout the country, including networks in southern California, northern California, Nevada and the Pacific Northwest.

(Public domain.)

These agreements include work to incorporate real-time GPS observations into ShakeAlert. The USGS and its university and nonprofit partners will also further the development and streamlining of scientific algorithms to rapidly detect potentially damaging earthquakes, more thoroughly test the warning system and improve its performance. In addition, they will upgrade the networks and install new seismic stations to improve the speed and reliability of the warnings. The ShakeAlert partners will also continue user training and education efforts, in collaboration with state and local partners, and add additional ShakeAlert pilot users. There are currently about 60 organizations that are test users, from sectors such as utilities, transportation, emergency management, state and city governments, and industry. Several of these are engaged in pilot projects to demonstrate the practical use of ShakeAlert in a variety of applications.

The ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system has been in development for 11 years.  In 2006, the USGS began funding multi-institutional, collaborative research to test warning algorithms on real-time seismic networks within the ANSS. In California, this is a joint effort, where state legislation was passed in 2013 directing the California Office of Emergency Services to develop an early warning system in collaboration with the USGS and its partners. The state of California has recently committed $10 million to CalOES to enhance the statewide build-out of the California Earthquake Early Warning system. The state of Oregon also recently contributed about $1million of funding to enhance the system in Oregon.

In 2014, the USGS estimated that it will cost $38.3 million in capital investment to complete the ShakeAlert system on the West Coast to the point of issuing public alerts, and $16.1 million each year to operate and maintain it. This is in addition to current support for seismic and geodetic networks.

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