New Earthquake Early Warning System to be Deployed by USGS

USGS Awards $4 Million to Support Earthquake Early Warning System in California and Pacific Northwest

RESTON, Va.— The U.S. Geological Survey has awarded approximately $4 million this week to four universities – California Institute of Technology, University of California, Berkeley, University of Washington and University of Oregon – to support transitioning the “ShakeAlert” earthquake early warning system toward a production stage. A functioning early warning system can give people a precious few seconds to stop what they are doing and take precautions before the severe shaking waves from an earthquake arrive.

The USGS has additionally spent about $1 million to purchase new sensor equipment for the EEW system. These efforts are possible because of a $5 million increase to the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program for EEW approved by Congress earlier this year.


Under the new cooperative agreements, the USGS and its four university partners will collaborate to improve the ShakeAlert EEW system across the west coast of the United States, and will continue to coordinate across regional centers in southern California, northern California, and the Pacific Northwest. The USGS and its university partners will continue development of scientific algorithms to rapidly detect potentially damaging earthquakes, more thoroughly test the system, and improve its performance. In addition, they will upgrade and construct approximately 150 seismic sensors to improve the speed and reliability of the warnings. They will also develop user training and education, and add additional test users. There are currently 70 organizations that are test users, from sectors such as utilities and transportation, emergency management, state and city governments, and industry.

In 2006 the USGS began funding multi-institutional, collaborative research to start the process of testing earthquake early warningalgorithms on real-time seismic networks within the USGS Advanced National Seismic Network. Today, the ShakeAlert demonstration EEW system is issuing alerts to the group of test users across the U.S. west coast in California, Oregon and Washington. In California, this is a joint effort, where state legislation was passed directing the California Office of Emergency Services and USGS to partner on development of an early warning system. The new awards will expand the number of end users and is another step to improve the speed and reliability of ShakeAlert.

During the August 2014 magnitude-6.0 South Napa earthquake, an alert was issued providing a nine-second warning to the City of San Francisco. During a May 3rd, magnitude-3.8 event in Los Angeles, an alert was issued 3.3 seconds after the earthquake began, meaning the warning was sent before the secondary, or “S” waves that have the potential for the strongest shaking, had even reached the Earth’s surface. An electronic alert message that travels at the speed of light can outrun the slower earthquake S-waves, providing valuable seconds of warning. Those few seconds of warning can be enough time to stop a commuter train or an elevator, open fire-house doors, stop delicate surgery and “duck, cover, and hold on.”

The plans for ShakeAlert were evaluated by a scientifically rigorous peer-review process: a panel of experts praised the progress achieved and recommended the proposed improvements. The successes of this effective ShakeAlert collaboration among the USGS and the universities led Congress to appropriate $5 million to the USGS in fiscal year 2015 to accelerate the process of migrating towards a public EEW system. In addition to USGS and university partners, the ShakeAlertsystem involves the participation of state and local governments, end users, and private-sector partners.


46 thoughts on “New Earthquake Early Warning System to be Deployed by USGS

    • I wondered the same thing. Right now there is a lot of thunder here. Every so often the brick condo that I’m in vibrates with the thunder, or maybe a fraction of a second later. Would such a vibration alert the sensors?

      • Even a building explosion or collapse wouldn’t trigger more than one or two nearby sensors, while a real earthquake would trigger dozens or more. A signal from a single sensor could be filtered out, so thunder, big trucks, trains, or anything else that is LOCAL in origin wouldn’t send out a widespread alert. And any explosion or impact event that _IS_ big enough to trigger 4 or more sensors …. Well, maybe we’d want an alert that SOMETHING had happened.

    • Even an explosion of a bunker buster type ordnance would be easily distinguished fro an earth quake. The energy levels and signal characteristics are completely different. BTW, I learned techniques of inverse convolutions in the context of seismic waves.

    • Of some interest not only to the Americans, but also globally is the Volcano and Earthquake Monitoring Plan for the Yellowstone.
      I looked at secular changes in the geomagnetic data for the area and it was not what I expected.
      Data for the Yellowstone caldera shows that the 22 year (sunspot magnetic cycle) and 60 year (the N. Atlantic multidecadal – AMO) oscillations are dominant.
      Yellowstone pdf file:

      • As you can see above, the spectral composition shows strong 22 year component, typical for the N. American tectonic plate, elsewhere I posted similar graphs for the Hudson Bay area , with strongest ‘solar’ link.
        As by a coincidence this video appeared today

        First part may be a bit tedious (unless you are interested in peer review machinations) but the telling stuff starts at 6 min 55 sec in.
        Does solar magnetic field moves tectonic plates?
        Unlikely, I think most likely is a common root cause to both, as it happens the clockwork of the solar system drives both gravitational and magnetic cycles.
        (responding to oneself is first sign of insanity)

      • Hi Mr. Schmoe
        Secular variation as I understand it, depends on the period considered. In the above graphs period of about 350 years is depicted, in which case secular change would be change over period of few decades, eg. pulses of 22 and possibly 60 years quasi periodicities would qualify.

      • Secular has a few distinct definitions. The one referred to denotes a long term time frame.

  1. Sounds as if this system – if it can perform as stipulated – might be an expenditure of public funds justifiable under the U.S. Constitution.
    How the hell could Obozo’s Executive Branch have had anything to do with it?

  2. They already have an early warning system in Canada that cost less than $100,000. Where is all the money going?

    • Since earthquakes are cause by human-generated CO2 the bulk of the money is going into models that predict when a new scare message is needed to create another round of government funding.

    • Paying blocks to drink bear in the pub and make a call when the ground starts shaking does not an early warning system make, and that is about all $100000 would buy.

    • 4 million only pays the wages for 40 – 50 people for one year. None mass produced equipment is very expensive. I work in manufacturing and a tool for one little bracket can cost 60K to 140K. I don’t know how they are going to do all the want with only 4 million. Once everything is put in place, I can see it only being 100K to keep it up. That only pays the cost for one to two people plus equipment for monitoring year around.

    • Almost every country asks the same question about U.S. costs on many topics of expenditure. But this is chump change compared to the billions shoveled out in the past four years for health exchange software and systems management contracts. The District of Columbia got $200 million in one round of this alone, just for DC itself.

  3. somebody reply to me…I just mindlessly upgraded to windows 10 and am trying to figure out all the stuff they turned off. This site is apparently one of the places were I lost everything.

      • If you use Windows 7 and like it, then there’s no point to changing. If your PC runs Windows 8/8.1, then go ahead and update to Win10. It’s more efficient, runs better on marginal hardware (no difference on a good PC) and integrates the best parts of Win7 with some few of the “improvements” of Win8.
        Of course, if you REALLY LOVE Win8, then don’t change. If it ain’t broke….

        • “Of course, if you REALLY LOVE Win8, then don’t change. “

          Hm. I’m coping with Win 8.1, but it seems as if I’m running a desktop PC with an operating system better suited to the limitations of a smartphone (what the hell is this with no “Start” button, anyway?). If Win 10 isn’t much more buggy than XP had been before Microsquish threw the third Service Pack at it, it might be worthwhile to put Win 8.1 on the shelf with CP/M and DOS.

    • The new Edge browser did not automatically import all of your bookmarks from Internet Exploder. You can do that manually by clicking the three-dot ellipsis button and selecting Settings, then Import.

    • Fossil Sage,
      So, here’s how to get rid of the damned thing:
      1. Go to Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features > Installed Updates
      2. Put KB3035583 into the search box in the upper right of the dialog as shown below, press ENTER to search for it
      3. Click on the “update for Microsoft Windows (KB3035583)” to highlight it, then click “Uninstall” as show below.
      4. Unfortunately, you’ll have to Restart your computer.
      5. Enjoy a hassle free desktop experience from now on.
      By the way if you already have Windows 8 or 8.1 and you hate the fact that you are running a tablet/phone touch based operating system on your desktop, and you wish it would run like Windows 7, I have a solution for that too:
      Classic Shell™ is free software that improves your productivity, enhances the usability of Windows and empowers you to use the computer the way you like it. The main features are:
      Highly customizable start menu with multiple styles and skins
      Quick access to recent, frequently-used, or pinned programs
      Find programs, settings, files and documents
      Start button for Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and Windows 10
      Toolbar and status bar for Windows Explorer
      Caption and status bar for Internet Explorer
      Classic Shell has been in active development for 5 years and has over 25 million downloads.
      Get it free here:
      In my opinion, Microsoft has erred greatly in trying to foist a tablet/phone touch based OS on desktop users. They should have allowed for some sort of retro experience in the GUI for people that want to use a desktop like they always have. Windows 8, 8.1, and 10 have speed and security enhancements, but they come at the cost of running a touch based OS on your desktop when you really don’t want a touch based OS on your existing machine.

      • WL: I’ve been seeing a lot of comments/advice re W-10. Yours is succinct. Thanks. “Boneheads” = yep!

      • Tucci78; Windows 10 is far better than Windows 8/8.1 if you’re on a regular desktop PC, and not worse if you’re on a tablet. So far, based on my vast experience of 4 days, I think you’ll be happier with Win10. Win10 is supposed to detect if you’re running on a tablet without a keyboard; since I don’t have a keyboard, I can’t offer an opinion about that.
        Warren Latham: Classic Shell makes Win8 USABLE on a desktop, but annoying glitches still remain, like the “Charms” bar that pops out from the right side if your mouse wanders over there. Win10 gets rid of “charms” on a PC.
        Everyone: If you’re “COPING” with Windows 8.1, then Win10 will be a good change.

      • Old-timers on the Web may remember a PC newsletter called “Internet Tourbus”. One of the guys who wrote that went on to create his own internet mailing list called “Ask Bob Rankin”. His comments today concerning Windows 10 and the upgrade process may be worth your time.
        The short version: He likes it, and a 4year-old laptop runs better on Win10 than it ever did on Win7.

  4. The Seattle water front and uphill downtown west of I-5 will simply slide into Puget Sound. The warning time will be enough to those in that area to send out short “I love you” texts. But the S waves will be less than 2 minutes behind the warning. Enough time to get out of an elevator, but then where?
    The S waves lasting for 3 minutes liquefies the ground under the Space Needle and underneath every structure in Seattle, and then PE = mgh becomes KE headed for the sound. 25 minutes later the tsunami wave from the Pacific comes down the Strait of Juan de Fuca raising Puget Sound sea level by 15 meters in less than 2 minutes before receding in the tidal bore from hell.
    FEMA knows this. But there isn’t anything anyone can do to stop it. Just pick up the pieces afterward.
    It could happen tmorrow or 100 years from now. No one knows when. But there is no “if.”

    • “The Seattle water front and uphill downtown west of I-5 will simply slide into Puget Sound. The warning time will be enough to those in that area to send out short “I love you” texts. But the S waves will be less than 2 minutes behind the warning. Enough time to get out of an elevator, but then where?”

      Two minutes is enough to save a helluva lot of lives, not to mention the fact that even two minutes’ worth of warning gets emergency services and procedures in train rather than having to overcome the “shock and awe” effect of an unanticipated earthquake. If you haven’t got disaster planning training or experience in handling mass casualty events, it’s difficult to give you an idea of how important two minutes can be.

    • 25 minute warning of a tsunami – plenty of time to get off the beach and climb the stairs of a 5 or 6 story building. Pick one the water will not knock over.

    • Hypothetical situation: You are on a boat in the middle of Puget Sound, let’s say just West of Whidbey Island in the Strait. You have gotten a ten minute warning of a tsunami. Would you head for the leeward side of an island or the Olympic Peninsula or would you head into deeper waters of the Sound? My thought is the deeper water and ride over the likely non-cresting wave, but I would love to hear both sides.

  5. I can’t wait for the TV ads:
    “Forget Xarelto. Have you or any of your loved ones died in The Big One but didn’t get an alert? Call this lawyer in Texas who will farm out your case to another blood-sucker, and you might get half of the settlement check in a class-action lawsuit against the universities who were supposed to create a fool-proof early-warning system. Yes, if you died because your phone didn’t alert you, even if it was out of power, call now! Operators are standing by.”

  6. MSM is reporting my State in Australia – Queensland – has been hit by biggest earthquake in a Century, packing the force of 15 atomic bombs, EXCEPT none of the 8 earthquakes in question actually hit Queensland at all.
    Queensland’s 5.7 magnitude earthquake packed the force of 15 atomic bombs
    Daily Mail – ‎5 hours ago‎
    Qld quake ‘most severe in a century’
    Perth Now – ‎Aug 1, 2015‎
    120-plus kms offshore is where they actually hit:
    3 Aug: ABC: Kate Higgins: Queensland shaken by eight earthquakes since Thursday, future tremors impossible to predict: seismologist
    Eight earthquakes have been detected in Queensland since Thursday, with Saturday’s magnitude-5.7 event alone packing as much force as 15 atomic bombs, a senior seismologist says.
    Geoscience Australia senior duty seismologist Dan Jaksa said three of the quakes, which all occurred in an area about 120 kilometres east of Fraser Island, registered magnitude-5 or above…
    some MSM didn’t even report the quakes were out at sea, including the piece below, in a region where people were supposed to have felt some of these quakes.
    list of the quakes & times at the link:
    3 Aug: Bundaberg Mail: Queensland earthquake packed power of 15 atomic bombs
    comments incl:
    Move along, nothing to see here!…
    15 atomic bombs..’eh..???
    Must be the size of 2 bob…’eh
    I haven’t felt nothing at Moore Park Heaven….!!
    Not a thing even to mentioning about…
    (no-one in the comments mentions feeling anything)
    but it made for sensational, extreme event headlines here & abroad on the same day the US President put out his video on extreme weather events.

  7. I emailed USGS in 2002 with this idea fully laid out, down to using shake maps to refine the algorithms and how the mobile phone alerts would be sent and received. I don’t know if they read the proposal. It took them till 2006 to start looking at the idea. When it was first rolled out for emergency services, it was only used to see where the worst damage might have occurred *after* the quake. I remember the article at the time said this information would be established “within a few minutes” ie not in advance of tremor arrival. The reference to the 2014 early warning is the first time I’ve seen it cited as giving an early warning, and only then to the 70 testing organisations. So, still no mobile phone warning for the public 13 years after my original email.

    • The mobile phone notification is a good idea, but what is the time factor from sensing to analysis to phone carriers to end user? Would that many calls overload the cell phone carriers and transmitters? What about the 15% of us that don’t use a cell phone? Or in a non-coverage area? I guess we are toast. I gave up the beeper/pager/cell phone thing I had been tied to my entire career upon retirement. It’s wonderful. The other day I saw an insect I had never seen before. Family members with their faces buried in their cell phones missed it. I asked if they had noticed the accumulating dark clouds. Nope.

  8. I worked on the preliminary stages of this system at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab around 1984.
    Aside from providing early earthquake warning, there was the issue whether it was possible to get around international bans on underground nuclear testing by setting up an underground test in a seismically active area, wait for a naturally occurring earthquake to start, determine from the initial signal whether the final magnitude would pass a critical energy threshold, and if so, detonate at nuclear device with the intent of masking its signal in the earthquake’s signal.
    I was working on the part about how much of the initial signal is needed to estimate whether the final magnitude would pass a critical energy threshold.
    Great stuff. Pretty exciting for a kid.

  9. So, in effect, people not killed or injured in structural collapses are now to be killed or injured in panic stampedes. Not sure I like that idea much.

    • Don’t forget car accidents. Perhaps the simultaneous warning of 100,000 drivers will produce the greatest accident EVAH!

  10. There are numerous videos of the great Tohoku earthquake which show Japanese folks getting shaken around in their homes or apartments while their TV is on, and you can see maps appear on screen showing the coastline with estimates of expected tsunami heights … while the ground is still shaking.
    In fact, these estimates will tend to be on the low side, because they are made while the fault is still rupturing, and the final magnitude (seismic moment) cannot be determined until the slip is complete.
    Those videos are also fascinating because they provide a glimpse into the Japanese psyche (if such a statement can be made). They are the very definition of stoic. (And tidy.)

    • “they provide a glimpse into the Japanese psyche” I think the word here is “mentality” instead of “psyche”, and yes, every culture has a different mentality. Mentalities are born out of historical experience of the culture which is influenced by climate, conflicts with other groups, geography, religion and even geology. The Japanese mentality reacts to earthquakes with their established mentality and, at the same time, earthquakes certainly play a part in shaping the Japanese mentality.

  11. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a computer system that would warn the mentally challenged about politicians such as Obummer.

  12. With this program, at least, the government is investing in trying to improve the survivability of the human race, especially in the rat warrens that Agenda 21 wants to put us in, meaning the big cities. I find it interesting that no one seems to be concerned with how little this program costs, and quite possibly how much better the prospects of this program becoming greatly more useful if we stopped injecting money into climate hysteria and put it into useful science such as this.
    Granted, when money starts to flow towards good science, the shillers will jump on board and try to find ways to milk funds for useless offshoots, just as the climate change crowd has done, but at least it has the potential of possibly giving us information that can truly save lives and make life less of a crap shoot.
    Instead of praising the efforts, all I see is knocking of the idea and concerns about the most invasive operating system yet to be produced, Windows 10, where all privacy switches are turned off by default and gives Microsoft and its “trusted partners” access to everything you do, everything you read, everything you look at, ever ad you click on, as well as where you are when you are using the program. Oh well.

  13. From anecdotal info, it seems many animals detect a “sound” in advance of an earthquake and some people claim to have heard a whistling or whining sound. If this is true, then it would have to be electromagnetic to beat the sound wave through the rock. I asked myself a couple of decades ago, how could this come to be? It occurred to me that quartz is one of the most abundant of earth materials and it is piezoelectric (emits a current if squeezed). With change in pressure (strain) in, say, a granite, quartz grains would create an electrical field, possibly sparking in small fractures and generating radio waves. Structures, perhaps buildings could be “receivers” and give off sound. In the 1950s in Winnipeg, Manitoba I recall a news item (I was a paper boy) in which a women ironing clothes was startled to hear a radio program come out of her steam iron. It was conjectured that possibly some crystal growth from hard water had fortuitously created a receiver out of the iron.
    How much would it cost to test a sensor which was a broadband radio receiver.

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