Ninth-grade students, including Mahlia Butler, 15, right, take part in a statewide earthquake drill, Tuesday, April 24, 2007, as they "drop, cover, and hold" under their desks at King's High School, a private school near Seattle in Shoreline, Wash.
Enlarge Icon
Ninth-grade students, including Mahlia Butler, 15, right, take part in a statewide earthquake drill, Tuesday, April 24, 2007, as they "drop, cover, and hold" under their desks at King's High School, a private school near Seattle in Shoreline, Wash.
Credit: AP Photo/Ted S. Warren

Good news PNW: Your phone will one day double as an earthquake alert device

The federal government is putting millions of dollars toward an earthquake alert program in the Northwest.

The app, ShakeAlert, will launch within two years thanks in part to the new gift, totaling more than $10 million from the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network (PNSN) is building the ShakeAlert app for all of Washington and Oregon. It will warn people right before shaking starts, giving a few precious seconds or — in the best case — minutes for people to drop, cover and hold.

Monday the USGS announced the gift, most of which will go to PNSN's office at University of Washington with the rest going to its affiliates in Oregon.

Seismic Network Director Harold Tobin said they already plan to launch ShakeAlert publicly in two years, and the new money will help make the system more robust.

"We've actually got the ShakeAlert system already up and operational", he said, "but it doesn't have as many stations as we need to be absolutely optimal."

He says the USGS funding will help them get very close to the final goal "to have all the stations we really need to do the early warning over the entire Oregon and Washington region."

Some local governments and water districts are already signed up as pilot users of ShakeAlert.

Tobin said when an earthquake struck Monroe recently, it registered on the app seconds before.