Earthquake warning system that could send alerts to cellphones being tested in Northwest

SEATTLE -- The unpredictability of an earthquake can rattle nerves, but what if you had a few extra seconds or even minutes to get to a safe place?

The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network is testing out an earthquake warning system, which will now be shared with hospitals and major corporations.

Several companies, including Microsoft, Boeing and Providence Hospital, will start testing the system, according to University of Washington researchers.

“The test group is a cross-section of our region’s economy so we can find the best ways of reducing losses from the next earthquake,” said John Vidale, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences and director of the seismic network.

The warning system gives automatic alerts when an earthquake hits. Depending on the location of the epicenter, Vidale said the program called “ShakeAlert” is capable of providing warnings up to several minutes.

"The goal is to tell people what they should do because they don't have much time to do it," said Vidale.

The University of Washington is working with University of California-Berkeley and Cal Tech. The earthquake software was developed in California.

Vidale said one of the goals is to eventually send earthquake alerts to the public through cellphones.

He added that fully implementing the warning system depends on funding and could take several years.