Earthquake alert system facing tests in 2018, but challenges lie ahead

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- An early alert system to warn of earthquakes seconds before they are felt will be tested later this year after 12 years of research and development.

Shake Alert is a cooperative venture of the U.S. Geological Survey and leading West Coast universities. However, it is still not ready to alert individuals on their cell phones. That's possibly three to seven years off due to technology limitations to do mass alerts fast enough.

Instead, early testing will involve city workers in Los Angeles. Partnerships are being developed to deploy Shake Alert to schools, public transit agencies and others for whom an early alert might protect larger numbers of people. It might also help to alert medical facilities to stop delicate procedures or fire departments to open apparatus doors early so emergency rigs won't be delayed by damaged exits.

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Funding is also a major challenger for Shake Alert, according to Doug Given, a USGS geophysicist and coordinator of Earthquake Early Warning. The Shake Alert project has never been fully funded and is projected to cost $38 million to build. The current year funding is $10.2 million.

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The system depends on sensors to monitor and analyze seismic events. It is only 48 percent complete with 859 out of 1,675 sensor stations built.

Public education about how Shake Alert works and how to respond to alerts is in the works. Geophysicist Given is doing a public presentation about the 2018 test Thursday evening at Rambo Auditorium in Building 3 at the U.S. Geological Survey at 345 Middlefield Road in Menlo Park at 7 p.m.

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