Stanwood-Camano schools test new technology that warns of earthquakes –

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Stanwood High students in Michael Randall’s science class participate in an earthquake early warning system drill Thursday.
Stanwood High students in Michael Randall’s science class participate in an earthquake early warning system drill Thursday.

journalist (graphics, reporter, editor)
Stanwood High students in Michael Randall’s science class participate in an earthquake early warning system drill Thursday.
Students dove under their desks and held on.
“It can happen that fast,” Stanwood High science teacher Michael Randall said to his class after the earthquake early warning system drill Thursday. “Two seconds is all the time we might have.”
Students and staff across the Stanwood Camano School District used the annual Great American ShakeOut drill for the inaugural test of its new districtwide earthquake early warning system — the first of its kind in the state.
“This was a good test to show us where we need to make some audio level adjustments, but we were pleased with the overall performance,” said Liz Jamieson, the district’s director of capital projects.
The district deployed an earthquake early warning system in 2019 at Stanwood Elementary — the first school in the state to connect to the USGS’s ShakeAlert system. It has since added sensors to all 13 of its buildings and connected them to a centralized intercom that is automatically activated by a seismic event. The entire system cost about $75,000, some of which was paid for with grants.
The sensors are part of the automated earthquake early warning system, called ShakeAlert, which went live throughout the state in May after more than 15 years of development.
The ShakeAlert system is now available to more than 50 million residents within the country’s most earthquake-prone region. Mobile phone data will automatically notify users in an earthquake zone as long as the device settings are set to allow Emergency Alerts, Public Safety Alerts and Public Safety Messages.
Stanwood High students in Michael Randall’s science class participate in an earthquake early warning system drill Thursday.
ShakeAlert uses a network of more than 1,600 seismometers on the West Coast that constantly monitor for location, magnitude and intensity of an earthquake. When a strikes, seismic waves travel out in all directions. But primary waves — what the technology detects — travel faster than the slower secondary waves, which can produce violent shaking.
The warning to seek shelter can come just seconds before shaking starts or up to a minute before the ground starts to move, depending on the location of the quake’s epicenter, officials said. ShakeAlert is being used in Washington, California and Oregon.
ShakeAlert technology can also be used to automate systems such as slowing train speeds to reduce the potential for derailments, opening firehouse doors to ensure emergency response can occur and closing valves to reduce leaks if gas or water pipelines are damaged, according to the release.
The ShakeAlert system will continue to improve as more sensors, called seismometers, are added to the network.
The Tacoma School District is following Stanwood-Camano’s plan to install sensors at each building, said Bill Steele, the pilot ShakeAlert project facilitator for the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at the University of Washington. And four more schools in Oregon and four in Washington — including Conway — are installing equipment in at least one school, Steele added.
“The hope is to lay the groundwork that systems like these are the best practice for schools,” Steele said Thursday in Stanwood.
Officials said they hope to get ShakeAlert into 2,300 buildings in the coming years to provide early warnings to more than 900,000 students across the state.
Meanwhile, Stanwood-Camano school officials said they will continue to test their districtwide system each year.
Contact reporter Evan Caldwell at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Evan_SCN for updates throughout the week and on Instagram @evancaldwell.scn for more photos.
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