Seismo Blog

The PNSN seismo lab in 2000 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Mount Saint Helens seismic sequence.

The PNSN seismo lab in 2000 commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Mount Saint Helens seismic sequence. 

The last earthquake to cause significant damage in the PNSN monitoring region – all of Washington and Oregon – took place more than a generation ago (20 years): the M6.8 Nisqually earthquake. Since then, much has changed in the field of regional seismic hazard monitoring.

On the one hand, the regional monitoring capabilities have expanded hugely: more and better digital stations, better data transmission, faster and more powerful computers and processing software, more PNSN staff and funding. The pace of these enhancements has accelerated over the past 5 years with the advent of the now-operational ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning system which, on its own, has seen the addition of more than 150 regional high quality seismic monitoring stations in the region, and more than a handful of new personnel to install and operate the new gear. On the other hand, there have been very few earthquakes large enough to be felt, let alone generate strong shaking. And as a result, our populace has lost conditioning and readiness (like an athlete benched for too long). And even within PNSN we question how to best employ all our new assets when the next big shake comes.

In this dispatch, I’ll summarize what we at the PNSN are doing to test and improve our anticipated response in the face of this unusual (although not abnormal) prolonged seismic quiescence. First, we are reviewing our goals and priorities. Second, we are reviewing and revising our procedures considering our new capabilities and organization. Third, we are stress-testing our revised and updated procedures and plans. Let’s take each of these in turn.

Deploying PNSN portable array instruments at the Rattlesnake Landslide in 2018. The main offset shows the stable (above) and active (below) portions of the ground.

Deploying PNSN portable array instruments at the Rattlesnake Landslide in 2018. The main offset shows the stable (above) and active (below) portions of the ground. 


In general, the PNSN's goals during an earthquake response can be categorized as either providing relevant accurate information to our stakeholders (officials, media/public, sponsors, etc.) or maintaining the systems and procedures that produce that information. Aligning our efforts to address and prioritize these goals is critical so that during the next seismic crisis we are focused not just on what we can do but are clear-headed about what we need to do.

We review and test our system with a series of earthquake “drills”. All hands participate in these drills. They start with a plausible scenario, for example a moderate (M 5.5) Puget Sound earthquake. We do a “tabletop” walk-through of anticipated impacts and network performance and operations in response to the scenario. This first run-through is about how things should go and includes a deep menu of concerns: anticipated data flow; product generation (e.g., earthquake origin information, ShakeAlert, ShakeMap, etc.) and delivery; message development; contact and coordination with external partners (e.g., emergency management agencies); data quality and availability; aftershock tracking; our internal coordination and communication, and media relations (traditional and social). It’s a long list and in the heated moments after a damaging earthquake that could happen any time of day, we expect it to be fraught. With what we learn from this drill we revise any policy or procedure as needed and update our documentation.

Finally, we stress-test our procedures with a more realistic drill where a drill “MC” uses a script of our scenario but throws monkey-wrenches into scenario. What if a telemetry problem has taken out a section of the network? What if one of our main computers fails? What happens if we find we’ve published a bad magnitude or duplicate location for an event? What if our website is brought down from too many requests? How do we prioritize and effectuate data recovery if telemetry a critical station is lost? What do we do if we can’t use our usual Zoom and Slack channels to coordinate internally? How do our procedures and plans hold up in the face of (at least) the challenge we anticipate?  We invite our partners and stakeholders to participate in these drills so that they know what to expect and may discover any issues that might plague their use of our information.

Hopefully our testing regimen will lead to better performance, more reliable operation, and less stress and worry, letting us focus on our ongoing and future growth and enhancements, next round of testing and so ever onward and upward!

Two PNSN field engineers share their experiences doing fieldwork on Mt. Olympus, and the significance of the OSD station.

Washington’s Unsafe Schools

September 20, 2021

by Jim Buck

A recent DNR report showed that many of Washington's schools are extremely vulnerable to earthquakes. Former State Representative Jim Buck argues that the state should be doing more to solve the problem.
A recent 41-day research cruise will give us a better view of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
If an earthquake were to occur tomorrow somewhere in Washington or Oregon, how much warning time would you expect to get from ShakeAlert?

M 3.9 quake is the largest in a Mt. Hood swarm

June 7, 2021

by Renate Hartog

Mt. Hood in Oregon is experiencing another swarm of mostly small earthquakes on its south flank. The largest, a magnitude 3.9, was felt by some, but most of the others were too small.

A Space Junk Mystery - Maybe Explained

May 20, 2021

by Steve Malone

In late March a string of lights in the sky and seismic recordings marked the return of space junk over Washington.

ShakeAlert Rolling Out in Washington on May 4

April 30, 2021

by Gabriel Lotto

The West Coast’s earthquake early warning system will deliver alerts publicly through the Wireless Emergency Alert system and Android OS.

Tremor Catalog Update - again

March 10, 2021

by Aaron Wech

Tremor fans will see a change in the catalog. The last four years are now more robust and complete.
ShakeAlert, the West Coast Earthquake Early Warning System, will be delivered publicly over WEA, Android OS, and push notification apps.

6.8 Nisqually Quake: The 20th Anniversary Program

February 26, 2021

by McKenzie Carlson

Ahead of the 20th Anniversary of the 2001 Nisqually earthquake on Febrary 28th, the PNSN hosted a lecture on the science of the Nisqually earthquake, earthquake hazards, and how Nisqually changed earthquake monitoring and hazard management in the northwest, as well as a live Q&A session.
On Feb 25 at 11am, a test message will go out to those who have opted in within King, Pierce, and Thurston Counties. Find out how to get involved and join a WEA WAtch Party.

Snow Avalanches at Mount St. Helens - Again

February 4, 2021

by Steve Malone

Seismograms recorded what appear to be large snow avalanches on the east side of Mount St. Helens on Feb 1 and 3.

Another typical Mount Hood earthquake swarm?

January 18, 2021

by Renate Hartog

Not for the first time, a swarm of small earthquakes has picked up on the south side of Mount Hood.

Renewed seismic activity near Bremerton

December 20, 2020

by Renate Hartog

Another flurry of earthquakes near Bremerton, WA

The Value of Citizen Scientists

October 14, 2020

by Steve Malone

Not only us professional scientists contribute to learning about our geophysical world. Read more to see how others contribute.
An overview of slow slip (and tremor) in all of Cascadia - more study needed.

St Helens 40th Anniversary Program

May 11, 2020

by Bill Steele

The PNSN anniversary presentations is available on line for viewing at::
Three hundred and twenty years ago, thousands of coastal residents settled in for the night on January 26th 1700, when suddenly the ground began to shake.

Small earthquakes near Fall City

December 19, 2019

by Steve Malone

A magnitude 3.4 earthquake near Fall City the evening of Dec. 18 has been followed by a few aftershocks, one of which had a magnitude of 3.0.

SoundersFC Soccer Shake Experiment

November 8, 2019

by Steve Malone

The PNSN plans to monitor the MLS Cup Finals in Seattle on Sunday, Nov 10, 2019. Return to this blog for updates as the experiment is installed and gets underway.
Help us figure out how Seattle’s unique geography affects earthquake shaking.

Ml=4.6 Monroe Earthquake of July 12, 2019

July 19, 2019

by Steve Malone

Additional Info is available for this earthquake, via its event page.

Typical Mount Hood Earthquake Swarm

July 9, 2019

by Steve Malone

The swarm that started late on July 7, 2019 really got hopping on July 9 at about 9am PDT (16:00Z). This swarm looks similar to previous ones near Mount Hood.

An updated tremor monitoring system

May 21, 2019

by Aaron Wech

A completely redesigned tremor location program and web interface is now available. The hourly tremor plots have been discontinued.

December 2017 Oregon Tremor Event

December 15, 2017

by Nancy Sackman

December 2017 Oregon Tremor Event


Over the past 9-10 days, it appears that tremor in central Oregon has picked up (Figure 1).  The last slow slip and tremor event was in February 2016, 22 months ago.  


Figure 1

Figure 1. Age progression of tremor in central Oregon for the past 9 days.  Earliest tremor locations start from 12/5/2017 and propagate roughly outward, clustering near Salem and Roseburg.  Last update was December 14, 2017.


Tremor is the release of seismic noise from slow slip along the interface of the Juan de Fuca and North American plates and lasts for several weeks to months.  This process is known as Episodic Tremor and Slip (ETS).  Slow slip happens down-dip of the locked zone (Figure 2).  The locked zone is where tectonic stress builds up until it releases in a great earthquake or megaquake.  The recurrence interval of slow slip and tremor varies at different regions along the Cascadia Subduction Zone.  


Figure 2

Figure 2. Cross section of the subducting Juan de Fuca Plate.  Figure from Vidale, J. and Houston H.  (2012) Slow slip:  A new kind of earthquake (Physics Today, 2012 pages 38-43).


The last ETS event in Cascadia started in February 2017 around the western edge of the Olympic Mountains.  The duration was approximately 35 days with a two-week quiescent period.  Prior ETS events in northern Washington/Vancouver Island area was approximately December 2015.  


The last ETS event in central Oregon was 2016 and lasted just over a week before it stopped on March 1, 2016.  


ETS events are still being studied to understand the processes about slow slip and megathrust earthquakes.  

More information about slow slip and tremor can be found here on the PNSN website.

December 2017 Oregon Tremor Event - Update

December 27, 2017

by Nancy Sackman

Tremor has continued in Oregon since the last post on December 15th.  Current tremor activity has been ongoing since about 12/5/2017 (figure 1).  


Figure 1

Figure 1. Age progression of tremor in central Oregon for the past two weeks.  Earliest tremor locations start from 12/5/2017 and propagate northerly and southerly.  Last update was December 26, 2017.


Since December 19th, tremor has now migrated northerly toward Portland and southerly toward Medford (figure 2).


Figure 2

Figure 2. Tremor activity from 12/19 to 12/26 showing progression in a northern and southerly direction.

More FAQs on Slow Slip and Tremor


On our previous blog post, we briefly discussed what ETS (episodic tremor and slip) is.  Let’s go through a couple of more frequently asked questions.


1.What is tremor?


Tremor in the Cascadia Subduction Zone is the seismic noise of slow moving earthquake along the interface of the subducting Juan de Fuca Plate and the North American plates.  Compared to normal earthquakes, tremor has lower frequency energy and can last for minutes, hours or weeks.


2. What about volcanic tremor?


Tremor can also be volcanic.  But ETS is deep, non volcanic signatures that are a result of plate motion, not magmatic movement.


3. How deep are the tremors?


As it states on our website - “This is a topic of ongoing research.”  But research suggests that it occurs near the plate interface at approximately 30 - 40 km deep.   


4. What is the magnitude of tremor?


Tremor is probably made up of many tiny individual earthquake-like sources each with a "magnitude" of less than 1. Since tremor is an on-going continuous signal assigning a magnitude to it is never done.  


Check out the map on our web page:


In the previous blog post about The M9 Project, we talked about how the Cascadia Subduction Zone can generate an M9.0 earthquake. However, our understanding of what an earthquake of this scale would actually look like is less advanced. While we have evidence of past earthquakes (e.g., native oral histories, tsunami records), we have no quantitative observations of how strong the shaking would be during a megathrust earthquake in the Pacific Northwest.

To address this problem, researchers with The M9 Project used 3D computer simulations to help understand what 50 different realizations of an M9.0 earthquake could look like in Cascadia. To create these simulations, The M9 Project researchers used multiple supercomputers: Stampede (University of Texas - Austin), Constance (Pacific Northwest National Lab), and Hyak (University of Washington). A single earthquake simulation took up to 46 hours to complete. If it was possible to run these earthquake models on a personal computer (many of which have a mere 2 processors, compared to the 576 processors used to run these simulations on a supercomputer), it would take about 522 days to complete one simulation.


Why are earthquake simulations important?



The unique properties of the Cascadia Subduction Zone prevents a side-by-side comparison between a future Cascadia earthquake, and other earthquakes that have occured around the world. For instance, an M9.0 earthquake in Japan, Chile, or Indonesia may look very different from an M9.0 in the Pacific Northwest.


Scientists have developed equations that can estimate the strength of ground shaking based on an earthquake’s magnitude and a specific location’s distance from the fault. However, these equations still rely on averages, and do not fully account for location specific 3-D effects (i.e., “How will seismic waves bounce around in the Seattle basin?”). Conversely, the supercomputer earthquake simulations, while still having some unknowns, can estimate shaking at every point in the Pacific Northwest, and are specific to the geologic conditions of the Cascadia Subduction Zone.



How are these earthquake simulations created?

Out of an infinite number of possibilities, 50 simulations of an M9.0 earthquake were run by The M9 Project team. The individual earthquake scenarios had a few important variations between them, that made each earthquake source unique:  (1) the hypocenter location (i.e., where the earthquake starts), (2) how far inland the rupture extends (i.e., how close the earthquake gets to major inland cities, such as Seattle), (3) the location of “sticky patches” on the fault, that generate the strongest ground shaking, and (4) the slip distribution on the fault (i.e., how far certain areas on the fault move during the earthquake).


Are certain earthquake scenarios “better” or “worse”?

The area affected by a megathrust earthquake is large enough that the outcome is going vary by location. A “best-case” scenario for one area in the Pacific Northwest could be a “worst-case” scenario somewhere else in the region.

One of the results of the computer simulations showed that when an M9.0 earthquake occurs on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, less violent shaking may be felt closer to the epicenter. This is because an earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone will not occur at a single point -- instead, it will rupture a very large area. As the rupture moves along the fault, the seismic waves will start to “pile up,” similar to the Doppler Effect.


As the waves at the front of the rupture combine, their amplitudes get larger and create more violent ground motion. Therefore, locations closer to the hypocenter may receive less complex and destructive seismic waves than locations that are farther along the rupture and experience this “piling-up” of seismic energy.

In these two videos, notice how Seattle's mock seismogram has larger spikes (which denotes stronger ground motion) when the earthquake source is farther south, and the fault ruptures north.



This variation by location makes it virtually impossible to award a scenario the title “best-case” for the entire Pacific Northwest.


Can we do even better?

These computer simulations are the most accurate representations of what an M9.0 earthquake would look like in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, there is a lot of variability in these calculations because there are still too many unknowns. An increase in seismic and GPS instrumentation throughout the Pacific Northwest, especially offshore, will help us identify more specifics about the Cascadia Subduction Zone and improve future computer simulations. For instance, we may be able to determine where “sticky patches” are located on the fault and obtain a more detailed image of the 3D structure of the subduction zone. Further constraining these variables in the computer simulations will ultimately help us refine our estimates of seismic hazards in the Pacific Northwest.


Special Thanks To


Dr. Erin Wirth, UW Affiliate Assistant Professor



M9 Simulation coverage from UW News


50 simulations of the 'Really Big One' show how a M9.0 Cascadia earthquake could play out - Hannah Hickey


Flickr Album

We are going to have The Big One. That’s a fact.


The final blog about The M9 Project is going to focus on you. What are you going to experience during a megathrust earthquake? How do we connect science and community? What should you do to be prepared?


The Next Stages of The M9 Project


Seismologists are not the only contributors to The M9 Project. Civil engineers, urban design and planners, statisticians, social scientists and public policy researchers also play a role in determining earthquake risk, safety measures, and public response to hazards.


Understanding the hazards and mechanisms of an earthquake is one thing, communicating effectively to the public is a completely different ball game. The next steps of The M9 Project focus on how we define and discuss hazards with communities.


For example, how does the way we design hazard maps affect how communities approach hazard planning? (See photo below) Or, how can hazards planning be steered towards rebuilding to community-specific values?



From assessing the utility of hazard maps (see image below), to hosting community planning workshops , The M9 Project’s research into “long term” preparedness- mitigation, response, and recovery focuses on how to best help you. We will discuss what to expect when the big one hits, as well as some resources so you can take steps to prepare .


Learning about Cascadia from other Large Earthquakes


The last megathrust earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone occurred in 1700 AD, before written records were kept in the region. In addition to The M9 Project research at UW, we can also look to observations of other major earthquakes worldwide, to help us predict what The Big One may look like in the Pacific Northwest.


Ground Shaking


A magnitude 9 earthquake will generate very strong shaking for several minutes. The intensity, measured by the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale (MMI), is determined by observations during an earthquake. Shaking tends to decrease farther away from the fault and will vary with local soil conditions, so intensity will vary by location. A more detailed description on intensity can be found here.


Below is a comparison of the shaking intensity from the 2001 Nisqually earthquake, compared to a hypothetical  M9.0 earthquake scenario. A megathrust earthquake will be felt over a much larger area, and generate stronger shaking.




You can find more about how magnitude and intensity are related here.


As part of The M9 Project, UW civil engineers are researching building response to strong ground shaking from a magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Seattle. This video from Kinetica Dynamics shows skyscrapers in Tokyo shaking from the 2011 M9.0 Japan earthquake.





Large earthquakes on a subduction zone are capable of generating large tsunamis. For example, the 2004 M9.1 Sumatra earthquake resulted in a 30+ meter high tsunami on the west coast of Sumatra (source). For more about tsunamis, visit our tsunami overview page.


This NOAA video models the tsunami from the 1700 Cascadia earthquake, which caused damage and loss of life as close as the west coast of North America, and as far away as Japan.  



We expect the next great Cascadia earthquake to be similar. As mentioned in our first M9 Project blog post, the record of past megathrust earthquakes can be found in muddy estuaries on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. In the layers of coast that have subsided and been filled again, there are bands of sand brought inland by tsunami waves, time and time again. Here is a article written by the American Museum of Natural History with more information on the Ghost Forests on the PNW.




For liquefaction to occur, three things must happen. (1) Young, loose and grainy soil (2) needs to be saturated with water, and (3) experience strong ground shaking. The USGS, in coordination with California Geological Survey, give a summary of liquefaction and its effects here.


This video from the 2011 M9.0 Japan earthquake shows dramatic cracks in the ground, as well as liquefaction.



Our webpage on liquefaction includes video of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, as well as links to liquefaction hazard maps for Washington and Oregon.




Strong shaking can increase susceptibility to landslides.


This blog from the American Geophysical Union details some of the significant landslides in Paupa New Guniea that were triggered by a M7.5 earthquake on February 25th, 2011.


The Pacific Northwest is susceptible to landslides due to seasonal conditions, and strong shaking will increase landslide risk. Here are some resources from the states of Washington and Oregon.


Building Damage and Fires


The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused widespread damage to infrastructure, such as the collapse of the Cypress Viaduct in Oakland, and fires in the San Francisco area.


Major cities in the Pacific Northwest would be just as susceptible to fire damage, and the construction of the Cypress Viaduct bears a striking resemblance to Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct.



So, What Can I Do?


In order to prepare effectively, it is important to be aware of all earthquake-related hazards, such as the ones listed above. The following websites are great resources for earthquake hazards and preparedness in the Pacific Northwest. We encourage you to know your risks, be prepared, mitigate against hazards, respond safely, and enagae in holistic recovery planning.


In the event of an earthquake, don't forget to drop, cover and hold!


Special Thanks To


Dr. Erin Wirth, Affiliate Professor, University of Washington

Lan T. Nguyen, Doctoral Student, Interdisciplinary Urban Design and Planning, University of Washington



MSH Anniversary Media Round-Up

May 18, 2018

by Elizabeth Urban

On May 18th, 1980, at 8:32 AM, the landscape in Southwestern Washington was forever changed by an explosive eruption of Mount St. Helens. This was the most deadly volcanic event in US history. 

Mount St. Helens is part of the Cascade Range, a chain of volcanoes from British Columbia to Northern California. The PNSN and the Cascades Volcano Observatory cooperatively operate 21 seismometers on or near Mount St. Helens, the most historically active volcano in the Cascade Range.

Seismogram of May 18th from one of our seismic stations. 

Main PNSN Page on Mount St. Helens

Main CVO Page on Mount St. Helens


On the anniversary of the eruption of Mount St. Helens, earth science gets its day in the spotlight. Here's a collection of news stories about the eruption and what we have learned about volcanoes since 1980.

38 years later: What's changed since the Mount St. Helens Eruption? 
- Q13 News 

Features an interview with PNSN DIrector Emeritus Steve Malone


Mount St. Helens: Remembering the deadliest U.S. eruption 38 years later
- USA Today, King 5 News

Summary of events on May 18th, 1980 with photo galleries

Lessons Learned: Mount St. Helens to Kilauea
- King 5 News

Interview filmed in the PNSN Seismology Lab with Director Emeritus Steve Malone


Remembering Mt. St. Helens as Cascade event looms
- KOIN 6

Event overview, brief discussion of Cascade hazards, and dispels concern of a Kilauea-triggered event in the Cascades.

Photos: The Mt. St. Helens eruption of 1980
- KOIN 6

Includes an interview with CVO Scientist-In-Charge Seth Moran


Scientists Reflect on the Catastrophic 1980 Mount St. Helens Eruption
- Ashley Williams, AccuWeather

Details about the activity that led to the eruption, how life in the MSH area fared, and another Steve Malone feature. 


How Dangerous are the Northwest's Volcanoes?
-KUOW, Oregon Public Broadcasting

Interview with CVO Scientist-In-Charge Seth Moran, discusses Oregon volcano hazards

Current ShakeAlert Implementation and Partners

October 19, 2018

by Elizabeth Urban

Following this week's Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill, we thought it would be appropriate to talk about the local progress in earthquake early warning. Below is a summary of of our partners for pilot projects in Oregon and Washington.

Impact of Oregon ShakeAlert Pilot Partnership Projects

Lucy Walsh


Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB)

  • Eugene Water & Electric Board provides water and electricity to 200,000 customers in Eugene, as well as parts of east Springfield and the McKenzie River Valley.  EWEB is Oregon's largest customer-owned utility.
  • EWEB owns and maintains 800 miles of water pipes, 9 power generating facilities, 16,000 power poles and transmission towers, and 13,000 miles of power lines.
  • The Leaburg Canal pilot project will enhance protection for a 1920s-era earthen power canal that is seismically vulnerable to earthquake-triggered landslides from steep slopes above the canal and potential instabilities of the constructed embankments. Automated dewatering of the canal can prevent canal breaches that might follow heavy shaking, protecting residential properties located between the canal and the McKenzie River. A canal breach could impact several hundred residential properties neighboring the canal.   The potential costs associated with canal breach damage could easily reach tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • The Carmen-Smith pilot project will reduce the potential for earthquake damage to hydroelectric turbine-generator equipment at the Carmen Power Plant. Automatic closure of turbine shutoff valves and a power tunnel intake gate could prevent heavy damage to equipment and associated infrastructure. Preventing or mitigating damage to this critical power generating facility would position EWEB to return electric power to tens of thousands of customers sooner than might otherwise be possible if major equipment repairs were first necessary. The potential costs associated with repairing major damage to power generating equipment could approach 100 million dollars and take multiple years to accomplish.


Bridge Section, Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT)

  • Oregon Department of Transportation serves all the citizens of Oregon and those traveling through Oregon. Over 36 billion miles were driven by all motorists on Oregon public roads and over 5.2 Billion miles were driven by domestic and international freight trucks on Oregon public roads (Oregon Trucking Association, 2018).
  • In Oregon, there are nearly 3.1 million licensed drivers and roughly 4.1 million registered vehicles; of those, about 3.2 million are passenger vehicles (Oregon DMV, 2018).
  • ODOT delivers a $6B budget in the form of capital improvement and maintenance of the highway system and works with cities and counties (local agencies) to oversee the use of $105 million in federal funds for capital improvement and maintenance of the local agency road systems.
  • Automatic triggering of warning lights on critical, heavy trafficked Oregon bridges not designed for seismic loads, and signaling to take alternate routes on can prevent life safety hazards for pedestrians and motor vehicles. Long-span bridges under the ODOT pilot project include the Interstate 5 Bridge (Portland), the Astoria-Megler Bridge (Astoria), the Yaquina Bay Bridge (Newport), the McCullough Memorial Bridge (Coos Bay), and the Isaac Lee Patterson (Gold Beach).
    • The I-5 Interstate bridge connecting Portland, OR to Vancouver, WA can see hourly traffic volumes upwards of 5,000 vehicles (SW Washington RTD, 2016)
    • Annual average daily traffic (ODOT Transportation Development Division, 2015)
      • Isaac Lee Patterson Bridge, Gold Beach = 6,200 vehicles
      • McCullough Memorial Bridge, Coos Bay = 13,600 vehicles
      • Yaquina Bay Bridge, Newport = 17,000 vehicles
      • Astoria-Megler Bridge, Astoria = 8,200 vehicles
      • Interstate 5 Bridge, Portland = 132,300 vehicles



  • Syn-Apps provides software solutions for delivering mass emergency alerts across an entire business’ communication platform. Auto notification can warn all Syn-Apps customers of impending shaking and provide them the ability to protect their people and their business’ physical assets.
  • Emergency alerts sent from the Syn-Apps Revolution software to indoor IP speakers, outdoor loud horns, digital signs, mobile phones, desktop computers, strobes / beacons, IP desk phones, etc. can be heard or seen by potentially thousands of people located on premise. In addition, organizations can alert people that may be located off-premise by external notification sources such as push notifications to cell phones, SMS text messages, email, or automated dial phone calls.
  • Syn-Apps provides alerting software to 46 companies across 27 cities in Oregon, and to wherever those businesses install the Syn-Apps software (“end points”).  Syn-Apps estimates they have licensed more than 23,000 endpoints in Oregon alone. Syn-Apps also delivers alerting software to customers across the nation, including 270 customers in California and 55 customers in Washington, and 35+ countries.   
  • K-12 education makes up a large portion (~25%) of the Syn-Apps customer base.


Central Power Station, Utilities & Energy Department, Campus Planning & Facilities Management, University of Oregon

  • The Central Power Station (CPS) is a District Energy provider, providing electrical power, heating steam, and chilled water to over 80 large buildings on the UO campus through 5 miles of concrete tunnels, servicing 29,500 students and staff on campus.  
  • UO has the ability to transmit electrical power to the local utility EWEB, and is therefore a potential emergency power source for nearby city government, law enforcement and hospital buildings and up to 100,000 residents
  • Automatic alert signals integrated into the control systems can prevent life threatening conditions, minimize steam ruptures or flooding, as well as minimize the time and cost of restoring critical systems.  Future applications will potentially protect students and staff across campus through a visual notification display.
  • Additionally, automatic actions on critical chilled water and natural gas systems can protect critical university functions, such as computing servers and sensitive research.
  • Approximately 23,000 students are enrolled and 6,500 people are employed at the University of Oregon.  51% of students are from Oregon; 37% of are out-of-state; 12% are international.


Oregon-based RH2 Engineering Partnerships

RH2 Engineering an engineering firm specializing in utility and infrastructure work for municipal clients throughout the Pacific Northwest, known for designing and implementing municipal control systems and emergency response plans for both water and wastewater utilities. RH2’s industrial-grade Advanced Seismic Control (ASC) device receives the ShakeAlert warning signal, translates it into time to shaking and predicted intensity, and triggers automated actions. RH2 has implemented over 50 customized automatic control systems throughout various municipal water supply systems in the Pacific Northwest. These systems are known to be reliable and robust.


Department of Public Works, City of Grants Pass, OR

  • The City of Grants Pass owns and manages a water supply, treatment and distribution system for 40,000 citizens.
  • The system consists of a surface water source, a water treatment plant, 8 treated water storage reservoirs, 13 pump stations, and 188 miles of water distribution mains.
  • Initially, use of the ShakeAlert signal will notify City public works staff to get to safety and to isolate water in the City’s largest water reservoir, preserving it for post-event recovery for thousands of citizens. Future phases will likely protect additional equipment (such as all pump stations and treatment plant process equipment in both the water and wastewater treatment plants), and notify all City staff to get to safety.
  • Shutting down motorized equipment prior to actual shaking occurring can save roughly $200,000 of equipment. Though difficult to predict, cost savings due to reduced fire risk from shutting down power at facilities could range in the millions of dollars.

Public Works Department, City of Albany, OR

  • The City owns and operates a water system and wastewater system to serve approximately 53,000 City customers, as well as the adjacent communities Millersburg and Dumbeck Lane Water District.
  • The City’s joint water system consists of 2 shared surface water sources, 2 water treatment plants, 7 treated water storage reservoirs, 6 pump stations, and 290 miles of water distribution main. The wastewater system is comprised of over 200 miles of sewer main and 14 lift stations delivering wastewater to the jointly owned Albany-Millersburg Water Reclamation Facility.
  • Automatic isolation of water in a critical storage reservoir will preserve water for post-event recovery. The City will also use the signal to notify public works operations staff for further actions at facilities, possibly including the water and wastewater treatment plants, the 6 pump stations, 14 lift stations, and additional reservoirs.
  • Protection of this equipment could save in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though difficult to predict, cost savings due to reduced fire risk from shutting down power at facilities could range in the millions of dollars.

City of Gresham, OR

  • The City of Gresham owns and manages a water supply and distribution system for 70,000 citizens, with assistance from two contracted partners.
  • The Gresham water system includes 9 pump stations, 7 water storage reservoirs, and miles of cast iron and ductile iron water mains.
  • Automatic notifications will alert public works operations staff for potential actions at facilities, including automated shutdown of motorized equipment at the water treatment plant, the 9 pump stations, and some of the reservoirs.
  • Protection of this equipment could save in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though difficult to predict, cost savings due to reduced fire risk from shutting down power at facilities could range in the millions of dollars.

South Fork Water Board (SFWB)

  • The South Fork Water Board supplies drinking water to over 100,000 people in Oregon City, West Linn, and some unincorporated areas of Clackamas County.
  • The SFWB owns and manages a water supply system consisting of a large intake and pump station on the Clackamas River, an advanced water treatment plant, 2 treated water storage tanks, 1 major pump station, and several miles of transmission mains for supplying water to other utilities.
  • Automatic notifications to management and operations staff can provide time to shut down power and chemical systems at the water treatment plant, therefore improving recovery times, and evacuate unsafe areas. In addition, power to facilities can be cut to prevent fires and allow safe operator egress from areas that may be damaged or chemically contaminated. 
  • Protection of this equipment could save in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Though difficult to predict, cost savings due to reduced fire risk from shutting down power at facilities could range in the millions of dollars.


Rogue Valley Council of Governments (RVCOG)

  • As a ShakeAlert Facilitation partner, Rogue Valley Council of Government provides communication and technical expertise to local partners on ShakeAlert information and products.  
  • RVCOG’s focus is on post-event recovery for critical infrastructure and staff members of water, sewer, public safety, public health, transit, land use and transportation planning, government staff, and non-profit disaster relief organizations.
  • RVCOG’s engaged partners across Josephine (population: 84,745) and Jackson county (population: 212,567) include all 15 local governments, 8 additional entities (special districts and higher education) and non-member entities of Providence Hospital, Asante Hospital, Pacific Power, Avista, the Oregon Department of Forestry, ACCESS, the Rogue Valley Manor, Data Center West, and Josephine County 911.
  • All entities involved, approximately 2,000 staff are within the influence of RVCOG partner’s ShakeAlert software installs.  When the 911 call centers in both counties have introduced the software installations into their operations, many thousand more can potentially be impacted.

Impact of Washington ShakeAlert Pilot Programs

Coming soon!

A US Geological Survey seismic hazard map for the city of Seattle.

Background: The Challenges of Predicting Seismic Hazard

We all want to know when the next big earthquake will happen. But because we can’t predict earthquakes, the next best thing we can do is figure out how strong shaking could be during future quakes. To do this, earth scientists can reconstruct an area’s historic earthquake record using geologic markers and any available written accounts, which allows them to constrain recurrence and magnitude ranges for quakes on local faults. Scientists then combine these estimates with what we know about an area’s surface geology to predict how often and how strong the ground will shake during an earthquake. This sort of analysis is the basis for the US’ National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, and it is critical for making sure we build structures that can withstand earthquake shaking.

Predicting how an earthquake will shake an area is not a trivial task, however.  Besides the challenges of figuring out the historical earthquake record from sparse geologic markers, understanding how conditions at a given location will affect earthquake shaking is very difficult. In Seattle, for example, there are many interesting geologic features that change and amplify ground motion during earthquakes; large areas of water-logged, artificial fill under Pioneer Square and SODO have amplified ground motion and even liquefied during historic earthquakes; the deep Seattle Basin, which contains thick layers of relatively soft sediments, traps seismic waves and “sloshes” like a big bowl of jelly in some earthquakes. Taking these effects into consideration during seismic hazard analysis is important, but requires a detailed understanding of the local geology and how it affects seismic waves.


The hills are alive with the sound of … earthquakes?

A geographic component that is not often considered during seismic hazard analysis is topography. As seismic waves from an earthquake propagate through the earth, they interact with subsurface geology, like faults and basins; however, the waves also interact with surface features, like hills, cliffs, and valleys. Depending on the wavelength of the seismic waves and the direction they’re traveling, the shaking felt on these features can be much stronger (or weaker!) than in surrounding flat areas. This amplification happens because these features scatter and trap seismic energy; they can also experience a sort of structural “resonance”, similar to the way buildings and bridges can. Studies of ground motion from the 2009 L’Aquila and 2010 Haiti earthquakes [1, 2] have shown that topography significantly amplified ground motion at certain locations, sometimes shaking twice as strong as surrounding areas!

With these findings in mind, we are interested in seeing how topography might affect earthquake shaking here in Seattle. While the city doesn’t have any particularly tall or prominent ridges, it does have many steep bluffs and cliffs overlooking Elliott Bay and Puget Sound. We know from past earthquakes that these features are prone to land-sliding, and we would like to know how topographic amplification might contribute to that hazard, as well as to the general safety of structures built on the bluffs.


How will the 70-90m tall bluffs around the city behave in an earthquake?


If you live inside the blue box, please consider hosting a station!

How will things shake out in West Seattle?

So, as part of a graduate-student-led research project, we are looking for volunteers in West Seattle to host seismometers for a small experiment. In this project, portable seismometers will be placed along and down the bluffs facing Puget Sound. Over the course of a few hours, these seismometers will record the ambient vibrations caused by ocean waves, weather systems, and even car traffic. Together, these sources create what’s known as ambient seismic noise. By comparing recordings of this noise from points along the bluff, we can understand how the topography amplifies ground shaking during earthquakes.

For our experiment, we are looking for hosts in West Seattle living near the bluffs along Alki. Ideally, hosts would live on or between Sunset Ave. SW and Alki Ave. SW. We also need a few sites in the neighborhood away from the sea bluff (see the map below). The experiment itself will last just 1 day, and only requires access to your yard, where we will plop-down a coffee-can sized seismometer for a few hours. The experiment will take place some time between early October and late November.

So, if you are a citizen scientist who would like to help us better understand how earthquakes rattle the hills around our city, and you live on or near the Sound-facing bluffs in West Seattle, please consider filling out the form linked below!

If you have any questions about the experiment, you can contact the project lead Ian Stone at

Link to Sign-up Form:


[1] Massa, M., Lovati, S., D’Alema, E., Ferretti, G., and M. Bakavoli, 2010. An experimental approach for estimating seismic amplification effects at the top of a ridge, and the implication for ground-motion predictions: The case of Narni, Central Italy. Bul. Seis. Soc. Amer., 100 (6) 3020-3034.

[2] Hough, S. E., Altidor, J. R., Anglade, D., Given, D., Janvier, M. G., Maharrey, J. Z., Meremonte, M., Mildor, B. S. L., Prepetit, C., and A. Yong, 2010. Localized damage caused by topographic amplification during the 2010 M 7.0 Haiti earthquake. Nature Geoscience, 3. 778-782.