News Feature | May 22, 2017

New Tool Promises To Help Water Utilities Protect Against Earthquakes

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Water systems in Washington state and Oregon may soon have access to new tools to protect them from earthquake damage.

These states are joining California as part of ShakeAlert, an experimental earthquake early-warning project sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the federal government announced last month.

“This milestone extends the ShakeAlert production prototype that was rolled out in California in 2016 to Washington and Oregon, creating a fully integrated system for the West Coast that can support pilot uses of alerts,” USGS said in a statement.

Water utilities may eventually be able to use the early warning system to better protect their infrastructure and supplies.

“While the system isn’t yet ready for public use, organizations ... can start figuring out what to do with a few seconds or minutes of warning before the ground starts shaking,” The Seattle Times reported.

Some water utilities already outfit their systems with electronic shutoff valves linked to earthquake sensors, according to KING 5. When the sensors detect shaking, valves begin to shut down.

But existing systems do not “guarantee you can get the valve fully closed before the shaking causes damage,” one expert told The Seattle Times.

ShakeAlert could allow technology companies to improve how utilities respond to quakes.

“The advantage of earthquake early warning is that it gives us forewarning that the shaking will occur, and we can be sure the valve is fully closed by the time the shaking starts,” the expert said.

USGS held a media event about the ShakeAlert developments at the Eugene Water & Electric Board (EWEB) headquarters in Oregon last month. As part of the initial rollout of ShakeAlert in Washington and Oregon, a new early warning sensor was installed at Leaburg Dam.

“It is the first sensor installed by a new pilot project sponsor in Oregon. We have plans to install a second sensor at the Carmen-Smith Hydroelectric Project,” according to EWEB.

Mexico, Japan, Romania, China, Italy, and Taiwan already operate early warning systems, according to the ShakeAlert project.

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