PORTLAND, Ore. -- The federal government is taking notice of the earthquake threat we here in the Pacific Northwest know all too well.
The U.S. Geological Survey awarded a $3.7 million grant to six universities, including the University of Oregon, to take an earthquake warning system to production.
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced the grant.
“In an earthquake, every second counts,” DeFazio said. “The University of Oregon and other West Coast universities are doing important work to build an early warning system that will give people extra seconds to save lives, avoid or reduce injury and mitigate infrastructure damage during a major earthquake."
Scientists attending a February 2016 earthquake summit made it clear the technology was available to warn people before a catastrophic earthquake strikes, but funding was needed to to make it public.
Scientists have developed an earthquake early warning system called Shake Alert. It works by sensing the earthquakes shock waves.
Take for example the Cascadia Subduction Zone, a fault that lies roughly 75 miles off our coast and is capable of producing a magnitude 9 earthquake.
The moment the fault ruptures, underwater sensors will pick up the quake's fast-moving P waves and immediately issue an alert.
That alert will let people know how much time they have before the slower and much more damaging S waves arrive.
In Portland, that could be as much as three minutes of warning.
At the summit, scientists explained how someday people will get that warning on our smartphones just by downloading an app.
Since phones track our location, it would alert us how much time we have before the shaking starts and how strong it will be.
The early warning system would also send alerts to trigger trains to stop, close bridges, and stop elevators at the nearest floor to prevent people from getting trapped.
The University of Oregon's Doug Toomey, a professor of geosciences attended the summit. He says a reliable early warning system that would cover the entire West Coast would cost about $16 million a year.