Oregon hopes for quake warning system within 2 years

An earthquake originating from the Cascadia Subduction Zone could be detected 60 seconds before the shaking starts in Portland. (KATU Graphic)

People throughout Los Angeles this week were able to download the ShakeAlert app, which can warn people seconds before an earthquake, but the technology is still at least two years away from being launched in Oregon.

Leland O'Driscoll is developing the ShakeAlert system through the University of Oregon. He told KATU News Thursday that about 50 more seismic sensor instruments will need to be deployed before the system is operational here.

State officials say while the app-based alert system Los Angeles is using is a strong blueprint, it's too early to tell what form the alert system will take in Oregon.

Besides the alerts to the general public, state officials with Oregon's Office of Emergency Management say ShakeAlert's impact will be far more wide-ranging when it's synced with public utilities and the state's transportation systems.

"Bring an elevator to the next floor and opening the doors. Putting an alarm in a hospital so surgeons can pull the knives out," said Althea Rizzo, the Geological Hazards Program Coordinator with OEM.

Rizzo adds the system could slow down MAX trains or drop guards down on bridges so no additional traffic moves through.

Each seismic sensor instrument costs as much as $40,000. The state's goal is to have 200 deployed across the state by 2023.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone is located off the Oregon Coast. Putting sensors in the ocean creates additional challenges says Yumei Wang, a resilience engineer with Oregon's Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

"To install anything on the ocean bottom is going to be fundamentally more expensive and more complex," Wang said.

How much of a warning people will get depends on the epicenter of the earthquake and its strength. If Oregon were to have a repeat of the 1993 earthquake near Scotts Mills, people in the Portland metro area would only get a six- to eight-second warning.

An earthquake originating from the Cascadia Subduction Zone could be detected 60 seconds before the shaking starts in Portland.

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