After its statewide deployment last week, ShakeAlert can now notify Washington residents when an earthquake is about to strike their area.
This early warning system could be particularly valuable to the people of the Plateau, where Mount Rainier can go from a majestic backdrop to a machine of destruction and death in minutes, caused by (or causing) an earthquake.
The ShakeAlert system, operated by the US Geological Survey and the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, does not predict when earthquakes are about to strike. Instead, the system quickly detects earthquakes already in progress, including an estimate of the size and location of the earthquake, and sends alerts to cellphones.
According to the Washington Military Department, this can give ordinary people seconds’ notice of an earthquake – enough time to “drop, cover and hang in” to protect themselves.
“Since the majority of earthquake-related injuries are caused by people hit by falling objects or falling while moving during the tremors, seconds of warning will allow people to take protective action before the shock. onset of tremors, thereby reducing the risk of injury, ”the department wrote. in a press release. “The system also has the potential to automatically shut off water valves to protect the water supply, to raise the doors of fire stations so that first responders can exit vehicles and equipment, to slow trains to that they don’t derail and even warn hospitals to stop surgeries, among others. other capacities. Dozens of pilot projects in Washington are already testing this technology to reduce earthquake damage. ”
Many cell phone users may not have to change their phone settings to get Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), although it is recommended that users check their phone settings to ensure that ‘they are able to receive these alerts. A “user guide” for Android, iPhone, and other cell phone users is included at the end of this article.
MONT RAINIER AND EARTHQUAKES
Earthquakes happen all the time around Washington and the West Coast in general, said Harold Tobin, director of Pacific Northwest Seismic – we just don’t feel them.
Mount Rainier is no exception. In fact, it appears to be one of the volcanoes, if not the most earthquake-prone, in the PNSN network, which stretches from Washington to California.
For example, the volcano has known 22 earthquakes in the past 30 days to May 5, the largest figure of 1.2 on the magnitude scale, according to pnsn.org. The US Geological Survey indicates that “a few hundred” earthquakes are detected each year near Rainier, “more than any other Cascades Arc volcano except Mount St. Helens.”
These small earthquakes will not cause ShakeAlert to send an alert to Enumclaw residents or anyone else living in the shadow of the mountain, Tobin said; the alert threshold ranges from magnitude 4.5 to 5.0, depending on the phone receiving the earthquake alerts.
In fact, most of Rainier’s earthquakes are unlikely to be recorded with ShakeAlert, given that the largest earthquake recorded under the volcano was only a magnitude of 3.9 in 1973, with tremors similar soil reported in ’76, ’90, 2002 and 2004.
But neither of these earthquakes coincided with an eruption or other major volcanic event like a lahar, both of which can be triggered by – or cause – an earthquake large enough to send an advisory via ShakeAlert.
“You might assume that a large eruption further in the past could have caused a large earthquake,” Tobin said. “The only analogy I say we have is what happened to Mount St. Helens.”
According to the USGS, the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 was preceded by a magnitude 5+ earthquake – one of the many signs that the volcano was about to explode.
However, Tobin pointed out that not all eruptions, or even most eruptions, are foreshadowed by a large earthquake.
“Many volcanic eruptions do not produce a [earthquake], “he continued.” They erupt without earthquakes large enough for the ShakeAlert system. ”
WHAT ABOUT ‘THE GREAT’?
If you’ve lived in western Washington for awhile, you’ve probably heard of “The Big One” – an earthquake that some experts say will level the West Coast.
“Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast,” Kenneth Murphy said in a 2015 New Yorker article about the alleged earthquake; Murphy is the director of FEMA Region X, which covers Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska.
While the New Yorker article drew criticism for the way it framed “The Big One,” pundits generally agree on a few points, such as that this future earthquake is believed to have come from what’s known as the Cascadia subduction zone off the west coast of the United States.
PNSN and other organizations call this a “megathrust” fault line, due to the fact that it is capable of producing magnitude 9 earthquakes. Japan suffered such an earthquake in 2011; it triggered a 130-foot tsunami, directly caused the collapse of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, killed nearly 20,000 people and cost an estimated $ 235 billion in damage, according to the World Bank.
But how would such an earthquake affect Mount Rainier?
“There is evidence of at least one temporal association between some very, very large earthquakes – the very few in the world that have occurred at the magnitude 9 scale – being associated in time with eruptions from neighboring volcanoes. “said Tobin, pointing to the Valdivia mega-thrust earthquake in Chile on May 22, 1960.
Also known as the Great Chilean Earthquake, it is the strongest earthquake ever reported since scientists began recording the magnitude of earthquakes. It is generally believed that it caused the Cordón Caulle volcano to erupt, sending an 8 km-high column of ash.
(For comparison, the ash column on Mount St. Helena was 19 km or 12 miles high.)
“However – and there are a lot of however – … many, many more large earthquakes on the planet have not been associated with eruptions. And I would say our best scientific understanding of the work of volcanoes is that you still need a volcano to be primed and ready to go, and maybe an earthquake could be the trigger that pushes it over the edge, “Tobin continued.” Although it is not inconceivable that an eruption from one of the Cascade volcanoes like Mount Rainier could be triggered by a large earthquake is also a pretty remote possibility, and much more unlikely than likely, I would say. ”
HOW TO GET SHAKEALERT
- First, use the search function in “Settings” to find “Emergency Alerts” or “Public Safety Messages”. You may need to click the three dots in the upper right corner of the screen, click settings, and click alert types.
- If you can’t find “Emergency Alerts” by searching in “Settings”, try searching for “Emergency Alerts” in the text messaging app instead. You may need to click the three dots in the upper right corner of the screen, click settings, and click alert types.
- Tap “Settings”> “Notifications”
- Scroll to the bottom of the screen.
- Under “Government Alerts”, tap “Emergency Alerts” and “Public Safety Alerts” to turn them on or off.
- To check if wireless emergency alerts are enabled for other types of phones, contact your mobile carrier and / or your phone manufacturer’s website for more information. If you are already receiving AMBER alerts, you may also receive these alerts. But this is not guaranteed because the phones use different settings. Ask about emergency alerts or public safety alerts.