Wireless Emergency Alert Test Planned for February 25 in Pierce, King, Thurston Counties

Test is a precursor to launch of the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning system in late May


Submitted by Washington Military Department

At 11 a.m., February 25, the Washington Emergency Management Division and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will jointly send a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) test message across many wireless devices in King, Pierce and Thurston counties. This is a test in the run-up to our launch later this year of an Earthquake Early Warning system in Washington state.

The demonstration is being done the same month as the 20th anniversary of the 6.8 Nisqually earthquake, which happened on February 28, 2001.

To receive the test messages, mobile phone users must OPT IN. Most newer Apple and Android phones have the option to receive WEA 2.0 and WEA 3.0 test messages. Don’t assume that your carrier has opted in for you. For directions on how to opt in, visit the Washington Emergency Management website or check with your cell phone carrier.

“There are a lot of people who remember the Nisqually earthquake and testing our Earthquake Early Warning system is a great way for us to get ready for the launch of the system in late May,” said Maximilian Dixon, geologic hazards supervisor for the Washington Emergency Management Division. “Testing is an important part of our process before wide release of the system. This has been a monumental effort on improving alerting to reduce our state’s earthquake and tsunami risk.”

King, Pierce and Thurston counties were chosen for this test because they are areas with the densest seismic monitoring and have large population centers with a high earthquake risk.

There will not be a similar test using the Emergency Alert System on television or radio. This test is only for wireless devices, where it will make a distinctive notification sound and the message will pop up in a text window on the screen.

The test message will say “TEST of the Earthquake Alert System. TEST -USGS ShakeAlert.” It will also be sent in Spanish.

The Wireless Emergency Alert system is one of multiple methods in which earthquake alerts will be disseminated to the public when the Earthquake Early Warning System powered by ShakeAlert is launched in Washington state in late May of 2021. The Washington Emergency Management Division is also working on an app that will include preparedness information.

Once launched, the Earthquake Early Warning system will be able to provide the public seconds of notice that earthquake shaking is coming their way, giving them time to take protective action, such as drop, cover and hold on. ShakeAlert is not earthquake prediction. The alert system detects earthquakes and rapidly estimates the shaking they will create. The system will also have the potential to automatically close water valves to protect water supplies, lift fire station doors so first responders can get vehicles and equipment out, slow down trains so they don’t derail and even warn hospitals to halt surgeries, among many other capabilities.

“ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning is an important new technology that will become a key element of earthquake safety for all of us in Washington state and the whole West Coast,” said Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network. “I am really excited that we are getting close to going live with public alerting in the coming months. These warnings can save lives and property when a damaging earthquake strikes. It’s very appropriate that this test of the new system comes almost exactly 20 years after the Nisqually quake.”

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