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Earthquake early warning system launched today – are alerts enabled on your smartphone?

On Tuesday, May 4, 2021, the ShakeAlert® Earthquake Early Warning system went live across Washington state. This new technology gives residents and visitors a potentially lifesaving warning seconds before dangerous earthquake shaking begins.

The system is operated by the US Geological Survey in cooperation with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN).

Dr. Harold Tobin of the PNSN emphasized during a recent presentation that this system does not predict earthquakes. Instead, utilizing a network of hundreds of seismic monitoring stations across the state, the system can assess initial, less harmful, waves generated by earthquakes and determine whether a warning is warranted and where. According to Tobin, this assessment takes only a few seconds and, when warranted, can result in sending out a warning via the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system a few seconds later. In many cases, alerts can be expected in under 10 seconds.

If shaking from an earthquake is expected near your location, the WEA message generated by the ShakeAlert system will read, “Earthquake Detected! Drop, Cover, Hold On. Protect Yourself. -USGS ShakeAlert.”

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USGS and PNSN officials say after receiving an early warning, you should not panic but use the extra time to take effective action. This means not try to run but instead follow the instructions in the message and find a nearby location take cover and hold on. Most earthquake-related injuries are the result of falling down and being struck by objects falling inside and outside of buildings.

If you are in a tsunami zone when an earthquake occurs, once the shaking ends you should immediately head to the nearest tsunami evacuation route.

Alerts can be sent to smartphones via WEA messaging (as is used for Amber Alerts). Residents are advised to check their phones to ensure Wireless Emergency Alerts are enabled. Most carriers have this setting turned on automatically but some people have chosen to disable them.

HOW TO GET ALERTS ON APPLE IPHONES

To check if Wireless Emergency Alerts are enabled on Apple iPhones, do the following:

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  • Tap “Settings” > “Notifications”
  • Scroll to the bottom of the screen.
  • Under “Government Alerts” tap “Emergency Alerts” and “Public Safety Alerts” to turn them on or off. 

HOW TO GET ALERTS ON ANDROID PHONES

To check if Wireless Emergency Alerts are enabled on Android Phones, do the following:

  • Use the search function in “Settings” to find “Emergency Alerts” or “Public safety messages.” It may be required to click the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, click settings and click alert types.
  • If “Emergency Alerts” are not located by searching in “Settings,” try searching for “Emergency Alerts” in the text message app, instead. It may be necessary to click the three dots in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, click settings and click alert types.
  • Ensure “Allow alerts” is enabled.
  • Ensure all types of emergency alerts are turned on (i.e. “Extreme threats,” “Severe threats,” and “Public safety messages”).

In addition to generating public alerts, the ShakeAlert system can also be connected to other systems to automatically launch emergency protocols to close water valves to protect water supplies, lift fire station doors, shut down manufacturing processes, slow down trains and warn hospitals to halt surgeries.

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