California quake warning system not in Washington

SEATTLE — A lab in California heard an alert seconds before the Napa earthquake reached it. That technology is not yet available in Washington state.

But scientists in Washington are working with the U.S. Geological Survey to set up an earthquake early warning system called Shake Alert, KING-TV reported.

University of Washington professor John Vidale said they want to make the system available to the public but they don’t have the money to finish building it and Congress isn’t willing to spend at least $17 million a year to run the system.

Sen. Patty Murray’s office said the program is among her priorities, but a bill to provide the money hasn’t made it beyond committee.

Emergency managers hope last weekend’s Napa quake will change that. They say Shake Alert could save lives by allowing people to get to a safe place moments before a quake hits.

“What can people do with that time? Well just in a 10-15 second time-frame that’s enough to put an emergency stop on some industrial equipment, you can slow an elevator, you can take a quake-safe action get somewhere secure,” said Debbie Goetz, spokeswoman for the Seattle Office of Emergency Management.

Private companies also are developing similar technology they say is just as effective as what the USGS came up with, and they hope to do it more cheaply. Seismic Warning Systems says it’s preparing to make a big push to sell their system in Washington state.

USGS has an experimental Shake Alert system in place in Seattle, but according to Vidale it’s “nowhere near ready to warn people.”

He proposes rolling out the system to 10-20 agencies and groups which respond in emergencies before giving access to the general public.

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