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US West Coast now has access to GNSS-powered ShakeAlert app

May 12, 2021  - By

After 15 years of planning and development, the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system is now available to more than 50 million people in California, Oregon and Washington, the most earthquake-prone region in the conterminous U.S.

ShakeAlert provides alerts to the general public through public alert systems such as TV, radio and mobile phones. It also slows down trains, opens firehouse doors, closing water and gas valves and

May’s addition of Washington State to the system completes the U.S. Geological Survey and partners’ West Coast rollout of ShakeAlert.

ShakeAlert first launched in California in 2019 and expanded to Oregon in March of this year. People in all three states can now receive alerts from FEMA’s Wireless Emergency Alert system, third-party phone apps, and other technologies.

The ShakeAlert system relies on sensor data from the USGS Advanced National Seismic System. ANSS is a USGS-facilitated collection of regional earthquake monitoring networks operated by partner universities and state geological surveys on the West Coast and throughout the nation.

Part of that data comes from GPS, which the USGS uses to measure crustal deformations over time. The USGS measures the precise position (within 5 mm or less) of GNSS stations near active faults relative to each other.

USGS works closely with ANSS partners and state emergency management agencies on the system’s development as well as public communication, education and outreach.  “USGS science is the backbone of hazard assessment, notification, and response capabilities for communities nationwide so they can plan for, and bounce back from, natural disasters,” said David Applegate, associate director for Natural Hazards Exercising the Delegated Authority of the USGS Director.


See also:

Early earthquake warnings: GNSS could enable 10-second alerts


“Systems powered by ShakeAlert can turn mere seconds into opportunities for people to take life-saving protective actions or for applications to trigger automated actions that protect critical infrastructure,” Applegate said. “An effort like this takes the dedication, ingenuity and hard work of dozens of partners with the same vision, and the USGS is proud to have been part of a collaborative team that made this robust public safety system available for millions of citizens on the West Coast.”

The ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system can save lives and reduce injuries by giving people time to take protective actions like drop, cover and hold on before potentially dangerous earthquake shaking arrives at their location.

In addition to supporting public alerts to mobile phones, ShakeAlert system data has, since late 2018, been used to develop applications that trigger automated actions. Automatic actions can be used to slow down trains to prevent derailments, open firehouse doors so they don’t jam shut and close valves to protect water and gas systems.

The technology will continue to improve over time with the addition of more seismometers to the network, by expanding alert delivery area and by improving messaging speeds.

A GNSS station in the Pacific Northwest geodetic array. (Photo: Central Washington University)

A GNSS station in the Pacific Northwest geodetic array. (Photo: Central Washington University)

About the Author:


Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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