By Katya Tulak
For the Beacon 

Minutes matter: App could save lives in a major quake


Last updated 10/12/2023 at 9:59am

Katya Tulak

Editor's note: The Beacon is republishing this story from March 2022 after the earthquake on Oct. 8.

The MyShake app, which warns users of an impending earthquake, is now live for the city of Edmonds and all Washington state residents. The app gives you time to drop, cover, and hold on before a big earthquake hits.

Minutes matter.

MyShake uses ground motion sensors that provide residents with a quicker response time when an earthquake is about to hit their area.

The earthquake early warning system is operated by U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena, California, and the universities of Washington, Oregon, California-Berkeley, and Caltech.

"We work together with an extensive network that covers the West Coast," said Bill Steele, director of communications for Pacific Northwest Seismic Network.

"When four of our stations find P waves (seismic body waves that shake the ground back and forth in the same direction and the opposite direction as the direction the waves are moving). we can located the earthquake, estimate its magnitude, and within two seconds it can generate a map of the predicted intensity, alert everyone within that region, and let people know that shaking is on the way."

The app is available to Washington, California, and Oregon, residents and is free to download for iOS users through the Apple store for iPhones and through GooglePlay for Android phones.

MyShake can get a warning out to Edmonds residents far more quickly than any other emergency system, according to safety experts.

"The app is going to be your first line of communication because nobody else is going to be able to get anything out to you fast enough," said Chuck Wallace, Safety and Disaster coordinator for the City of Edmonds Emergency Management.

"The app is going to give you anywhere from a few seconds' notice to a couple of minutes' notice that an earthquake has occurred and the shaking is coming," Wallace said.

There is a lot you can do to protect yourself with a few seconds' notice, said Steele.

"Currently, the MyShake app will alert you faster than the Wireless Emergency Alert system," Steele said.

The app picks up earthquakes all around the world and records the motion of your phone when a significant earthquake is occurring. When this happens, the MyShake app will gather data based on the shake, which is sent back to Berkeley with the location.

That data helps better inform the earthquake alerting system on the different shakes in various neighborhoods.

The City of Edmonds is taking other measures to prepare for a large quake. The city is well equipped with engineers who are trained to identify possible hazardous buildings in the city.

"The training our engineers have helped them evaluate buildings based upon certain guidelines and a certain score you get," said Wallace. "If it falls above the score, you can use the building. If it's below, you can't use it."

Wallace describes how they would evaluate the buildings in downtown Edmonds after any event of an earthquake. The engineers determine which buildings are safe and unsafe.

In the event that residents of Edmonds cannot go back to their homes due to the safety of the building, the city has a safe building for them.

No one can be prepared for when a big quake hits, Wallace said, but what the city officials can do to help the city of Edmonds and its residents is provide as much information to the public as to what could occur, what you need to do, preparation at home, and work plans.

"I would highly suggest downloading the app because it is important to be prepared in case of a threatening disaster," said Peggy Lopez, a Seattle resident and a citizen scientist for MyShake.

By becoming a user of the app, you become a citizen scientist, she said.

MyShake collects motion data from your phone sensors, which are then picked up by the earthquake alerting system. That data is collected and evaluated whether an earthquake is nearby.

With the app's many features, Lopez is able to locate any earthquakes when she is away from home, and be alerted of any quakes are in her family's hometown.

Preparing for any emergency is important, and can help reduce stress and anxieties that come from any dangers of natural disasters, Wallace said. The more you understand what's going to happen, the better off you are going to be.

City of Edmonds Emergency Management is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan to provide a readiness response and mitigation plan in place for the residents of Edmonds if a disaster occurs.

"Our goal is to provide good information to people so that they can make the best decisions on what they are going to do for themselves and their family," said Wallace. "That's what it comes down to."


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