Federal spending to fund earthquake warning system

Medford, Ore. — The recently passed spending bill could also help protect us from the effects of an earthquake.

Since we rest on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, we know for a fact we’ll eventually be hit by a big earthquake.

The question is when.

Funding from the new federal spending package could help us to detect the event seconds, even minutes, before it happens.

“That little bit of extra warning can literally save lives… Help us make some good, immediate decisions,” Larry Masterman with Medford Emergency Management said.

Last September, Medford Emergency Management installed a seismometer atop Roxy Ann Peak.

It can connect to the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and the ShakeAlert Warning System.

It’s a system that could notify entire towns an earthquake is coming before the ground shakes.

“Imagine you’re getting lasic or something like that… Wouldn’t it be nice for them to have a little beep that says you’re about to get hit by an earthquake,” Masterman said.

Without proper funding, the system wouldn’t be able to continue.

But the new federal budget is increasing on funds that will help support the program to $23 million.

That’s more than double the amount given to the U.S. Geological Survey last year.

“It’s not perfected here yet, but money resources would certainly help us along to do it more efficiently,” Geology professor Eric Dittmer said.

Fire Chief Brian Fish with Medford Fire-Rescue has access to the ShakeAlert program.

He says the communication system is the next item that needs to be perfected.

“That’s the next big step for the program… Is to figure out how would we alert the citizens or what would we choose to alert,” Fire Chief Fish said.

The new funding could help those involved figure out who receives the warning, and how it will get transmitted to key agencies.

If successful, people could be given seconds… even minutes… to prepare for an unexpected natural disaster.

“If we had enough time we could move our fire engines outside of the fire station, so if our doors got jammed or tweaked, then we could still respond,” Fire Chief Fish said.

The program is expected to go public in the next few years.

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