It's been 15 years of labor, and now, the fruits: Anyone in California, Oregon, and Washington with a cellphone can now get the US earthquake early warning system's mobile alerts. The ShakeAlert early warning system went live in LA in late 2018 and then expanded to the rest of the state. Oregon came online in March, and Washington state joined them Tuesday morning, meaning more than 50 million people now have access, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. The Los Angeles Times reports the system has the ability to give a heads-up a few seconds in advance of a minor quake, which it suggests is enough time "for automatic systems to send alerts to hospitals telling surgeons to remove scalpels from patients; elevators to stop at the nearest floor; and trains to start slowing down, decreasing the risk of a derailment." In the case of a major quake, the warning could be as long as 80 seconds.
That's possible because our communication systems can outpace "the speed at which shaking waves move through the ground," per the Times. The sensors that are constantly checking for movement send info to a data processing center that is able to determine where an earthquake is occurring and how strong it is, reports KOMO. West Coast residents will want to go into their phone settings to verify that emergency notifications are enabled. While you can download free apps like MyShake, that's not necessary. The messages will automatically appear like Amber Alerts do in cases of earthquakes of magnitudes of 5.0 or higher, though the apps can be triggered at magnitudes of 4.5, and Android users will get alerted at that level, notes the University of Washington. (Read more earthquake stories.)