Governor announces legislative push to fund Oregon ShakeAlert

First published in Around the O on January 28th, 2020.

With a vision for preparing the state for a large Cascadia earthquake, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced on Monday a resiliency agenda for the upcoming legislative session that would include $7.5 million in funding to the University of Oregon to build out the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system.

In addition to building out Oregon’s earthquake early warning network, Senate Bill 1537 would direct of the Office of Emergency Management and other state agencies to develop and administer earthquake safety educational outreach programs to ensure Oregon is as prepared and resilient as possible in the wake of a natural disaster.

“It is imperative that our state be resilient enough to face anything that comes our way, especially natural disasters,” Brown said at the event at the UO’s White Stag Block in Portland. “For our Oregon communities and economy to thrive, we have to be ready to recover from natural disasters, including a Cascadia event. One of my priorities is to improve the resilience of our people and our infrastructure.”

Map of seismic stations
The ShakeAlert system uses sensors to detect significant earthquakes when destructive shaking travels across the region. Depending on how far away someone is from the epicenter, seconds to many tens of seconds of warning would allow people to take cover and protect critical infrastructure.

With even a short amount of warning, water utilities could switch valves to preserve drinking water, fire station doors could open before electricity goes out, and hospitals could power up generators to continue care for patients.

The Cascadia fault extends from Northern California to British Columbia. ShakeAlert must be implemented along the entire West Coast for it to be most effective because an incomplete system generates less accurate alerts. The ShakeAlert system is already providing public alerts throughout California, and plans are in place to test the public phase this year in the Pacific Northwest.

“Oregon is in the middle of the Cascadia subduction zone. Our performance impacts the entire West Coast,” said Doug Toomey, a UO professor of earth sciences and Oregon’s lead in the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “By not completing ShakeAlert, we not only put Oregonians at greater risk, but we impact the resiliency of Washington, California and British Columbia.”

The seismic network is a cooperative effort between the UO and University of Washington and monitors earthquake and volcanic activity in the Pacific Northwest.

For Oregon to contribute accurate alerts to the public rollout of ShakeAlert, it must reach a certain density of sensors in urban and rural areas to meet federal standards. Oregon’s network is just 50 percent complete.

The funding for ShakeAlert in the governor’s resiliency agenda would go toward the purchase and installation of 83 new sites in Oregon. It is a one-time investment in infrastructure. Once Oregon installs the new sites and certifies delivery of data to the ShakeAlert system, the federal government will take over operations and maintenance costs for the West Coast network.

Brown proclaimed Jan. 26-Feb. 1 as Cascadia Earthquake Preparedness Week. Including ShakeAlert, she outlined a proposed $12.7 million investment to enhance public safety and disaster preparedness. That includes 2-Week Ready Oregon, a program to ensure 250,000 homes are prepared to be on their own for a minimum of two weeks after a disaster; funding to assess dams across the state and prioritize repairs; and updating the Oregon Resilience Plan and Coastal Plan.

The event included remarks by State Treasurer Tobias Read; State Rep. Nancy Nathanson, a Eugene Democrat; Rachel Lanigan, a project manager for RH2 Engineering; and Capt. Tom Walsh with Portland Fire and Rescue. Numerous state, city and county elected officials, along with congressional staff for the Oregon and Washington federal delegation, attended the ceremony.

—By Heidi Hiaasen, University Communications