Brown asks legislature to fund $7.5 million in earthquake early warning system build out

Prof. Doug Toomey is one of the foremost seismologists on the west coast and oversees the University of Oregon’s ShakeAlert program (Courtesy/University of Oregon)

Oregon would prepare 250,000 households to become self-sufficient following a catastrophic earthquake under legislation advancing in Salem.

The legislation, Senate Bill 1537, also would double the number of monitors that would alert public officials to an earthquake.

The proposals are the latest effort to prepare Oregonians for what scientists say is inevitable – a destructive earthquake in the Cascadia Subduction Zone that would destroy buildings, roads and more.

Some $3 million is being requested by Gov. Kate Brown to fund “Two-week Ready Oregon” within the state Office of Emergency Management. The program would be administered by the Oregon Military Department and aims to give 250,000 Oregon households the supplies and expertise to be self-sufficient for two weeks following a natural disaster. That means having enough food, water, first-aid supplies and other emergency items to keep a household functioning for two weeks. 

The legislation, pending before the Legislature’s budget committee, would build out Oregon’s ShakeAlert system, a network of seismic monitoring stations administered by the U.S. Geological Survey along the Pacific Coast. The network extends from northern California to British Columbia and feeds into similar programs at CalTech, the University of California, Berkeley, and University of Washington. 

ShakeAlert monitors seismic activity and allows the Geological Survey to alert counties, cities, utility companies and others before shaking from an earthquake begins. It gives people time to methodically take shelter rather than scrambling in a panic. It also allows utilities to take precautions and shut down critical infrastructure that could be damaged by shaking. 

A University of Oregon diagram explaining the ShakeAlert system (Courtesy/University of Oregon)

A total of $7.5 million would be allocated the network, which currently has around 120 sensors located across the Willamette Valley and Oregon coast. The goal is to set up 250 sensors in Oregon by 2023.

A team from the University of Oregon would install and monitor the stations. Eight team members at UO work to install new stations in the field and monitor activity. That includes One of those on the team is Professor Doug Toomey, seismologist, geophysicist and one of the pioneers of in the use of ocean-bottom seismology. 

“One of the remarkable aspects about the project is how collaborative and well distributed it has been over its development,” Toomey said. “The University of Oregon actually has one of the stronger seismology departments on the West Coast with five active seismologists.” 

According to Toomey, the benefit of ShakeAlert is its impact on protecting public safety not only in Oregon, but along the entire earthquake zone. 

“If you think of the impacts we have locally in terms of helping people and helping a water utility save water by shutting off valves, that’s multiplied by many hundreds along the West Coast,” he said. “Funding from the state is critical not only just for Oregon, but our performance within ShakeAlert impacts the resiliency of California, Washington and British Columbia.” 

Also packed within the bill are provisions that would review dam safety across the state and update the state’s resilience plan.

Contact Reporter Sam Stites: [email protected] or 971-255-2480.