ShakeAlert early earthquake warning system launches in Washington

The ShakeAlert early earthquake warning app will launch in Washington and Oregon this week.

While the app can't predict earthquakes, it does give seconds, and sometimes minutes, of warning before the shaking starts. A warning of even seconds can be useful — it gives you time to get away from heavy bookcases or dressers and time to find shelter under a doorway or sturdy desk.

This technology has been used for years in places like Mexico, California and Turkey and will officially launch in the Pacific Northwest on Tuesday, May 4. 

The detection system works because earthquakes produce two kinds of waves: the P waves, or primary waves, go out as fast as the speed of sound and the slower, more damaging S waves soon follow. Seismographs pick up those P waves and within milliseconds, can send out alerts via text, radio, television, that a quake is coming.

App users will have more notice the farther away they are from the epicenter.

Geologists say large earthquakes on our offshore fault line called the Cascadia Subduction Zone happen about every 300 years. Some estimated them to be the mammoth 9.0 variety on the Richter scale.

However, there hasn't been a quake that large on that fault line in 320 years. 

You can watch a webinar here on how to use ShakeAlert and get more information on the app here

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