State asks people to opt-in to earthquake early warning system test alert

This Sunday will mark the 20th anniversary of the Nisqually Earthquake. The magnitude 6.8 quake rocked the Northwest and caused billions of dollars in damage. One person died of a heart attack and about 400 others were hurt.

The University of Washington created a simulation of what would have happened if ShakeAlert, an early warning system, were in place back then.

“Many of those people probably with a little bit of alert time could have taken some action to protect themselves or not panicked when the earthquake started to run out of the building because falling bricks from the outside of the buildings is a common way people get injured,” explained Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, which is based out of UW.

For years, UW has been working with many other groups to create ShakeAlert. The early warning system uses a network of seismic sensors — 300 alone in the state of Washington — to detect an earthquake. That information is then sent to your cell phone alerting you before you start to feel the ground shake.

“It can be anywhere from a few seconds up to 30 seconds or more for let’s say a big earthquake that starts off at the coast before we’re actually feeling it in the Puget Sound region,” Tobin said.

The system is already live in California. It launches in Oregon next month and in Washington in May. But before it rolls out to the public, officials needed to test it and asked people to opt-in on their cellphones.

“The goal of the test is to really see how it works in the real world. If they push the button to say the alert’s going out, how quickly and completely does it hit all the different people’s cell phones?” added Tobin.

To have received the test alert, which was sent on Feb. 25 at 11 a.m., you had be in King, Pierce, or Thurston counties.

Here’s the link on how to opt-in for future alerts: https://mil.wa.gov/alerts