ShakeAlert Earthquake Warning System to Sound Off In San Diego
San Diego residents will receive an earthquake alert on their phones Thursday morning. It’s the first time the county and the second time the state is testing out this new warning system, called ShakeAlert.
It acts much like Amber Alert, which uses a wireless emergency alert network in the United States to send a warning to people via their phones. But the ShakeAlert system incorporates the numerous earthquake sensors throughout the state.
So, when an earthquake strikes it detects the first round of shock waves released. It then warns residents via a phone alert before the slower, more damaging waves arrive, says Robert-Michael de Groot, a scientist at the U.S. Geological Services.
At the San Diego Emergency Operations Center, he points to an earthquake simulation.
"This very important spot the epicenter is where the sensors will pick up that shaking and we send that information back really quickly back to processing centers whether to send out a ShakeAlert," de Groot said.
"The key thing here is the faster waves are moving about 4 miles per second, so we are hoping to get that message out ahead of these waves," he said. "Because what’s important here is not so much the faster waves, but the slower waves moving at around 2 miles per second that will cause the most damage."
California started developing this statewide warning system with the U.S. Geological Survey back in 2016. San Diego is the second city in California to test it.
It will be a much larger than the one in Oakland earlier this year, because on Thursday, ShakeAlert will reach millions of San Diego County residents, says Holly Porter, director for the San Diego County Office of Emergency Services.
She says even a few seconds of warning can make the difference.
"If we were standing in this room right now and I received an alert, I would look around and look for a sturdy object to duck cover and hold on and cover my head," Porter said.
She also says in just a few seconds, surgeries can be stopped, trains slowed, and water pumps closed. But, there’s still a question of how people outside the range of a cell-phone tower or signal will be warned.
"There are a variety of different ways first respondents can alert and warn the public. We have technological solutions like Alert San Diego, where we call people’s landline phones and mobile phones," Porter said. She says there’s "old fashioned" door-to-door knocking with police officers and flyovers with loudspeakers.
Porter says around one-thousand residents will also receive a survey after the test, asking how long it took for them to get the message.
She says the state is still collecting data to see whether ShakeAlert is the right platform to notify residents about earthquakes and whether phones are the best way to reach people quickly.