The ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System

A Major Public Safety Achievement, but What About After the Earthquake?

The development of the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System for the West Coast began in 2006, in California and has since spread to Oregon and Washington. Progress has been rapid. Today all three states have the ability to detect the occurrence of an earthquake, determine its location and magnitude and then, send an alert message to select end-users, (for example, school districts, businesses, industrial sites and transportation facilities), which might be impacted,  PRIOR to the arrival of the severe shaking from the earthquake. Public alerting to personal cell phones is being tested in California with some success. It is only a matter of time, when advancements in the system will enable everyone to receive an earthquake early warning message, providing seconds, to tens of seconds, lead time, before shaking arrives to take action to properly protect themselves.

But are we prepared as individuals, families and communities for the aftermath of a severe earthquake?

There isn’t a person who would deny they wish to receive emergency and disaster warnings such as a ShakeAlert earthquake early warning, as soon as possible, to protect their family, friends and pets. Yet,  according to a Columbia University, National Center for Disaster Preparedness, Earth Institute study called The American Preparedness Project: Where the US Public Stands in 2015,  “Nearly two thirds (65%) of households do not have adequate plans for a disaster or have no plans at all.”

Based on the same study, “41% of Americans are not confident that their community has adequate plans in place for a disaster that occurs with no warning and 37% are not confident in their community’s ability to meet the needs of children during disasters.”

With this information, the question that remains is, why don’t people prepare for disasters and their aftermath?

There are countless explanations why people haven’t prepared for an earthquake and the aftermath. Statistics claim it’s unlikely to occur within our lifetimes, insurance is unaffordable, the government will come help my family and I, it costs too much to prepare, and “I’ve lived through disaster events in the past;” have been heard as excuses, time and time again.

Countless preparedness marketing campaigns have been initiated, yet for nearly two decades, an entire generation, two thirds of households have NOT been prepared for a disaster. One-size-fits-all preparedness marketing projects haven’t worked. If you think about it, why should they? You are not me and I am not you. We have different needs, wants, and family circumstances. Some families have members who cannot function without their smartphone. Another member has trouble using email on a desktop or laptop computer, while a grandparent may still be dependent on a land line telephone and the US Postal Service for communications.  These examples alone show how challenging it can be to even reach different audiences, but a more important question we need to ask is: once we’ve reached these individuals, what will motivate them to begin preparedness activities?

As the quest for individual preparedness motivations continues, try to envision the amount of motivation you will have if you happen to become involved in a real-life earthquake event.  For now, one of the easiest ways to begin earthquake preparedness is to participate in The Great Washington ShakeOut. ShakeOut provides an opportunity for families, individuals and businesses to practice what to do during an earthquake event and offers a day to initiate individual and family disaster planning endeavors, to help reduce the impact of the aftermath of the disaster.

Let all the media attention this event gets be your reminder: if you only think about earthquake preparedness one day of the year, the Great Washington ShakeOut, on October 17, 2019 should be that one day. When a disaster strikes, you’ll be glad you did.

The preparedness you initiate today will help reduce the impact any disaster will have upon you, your family, friends, pets and community. Take your first step toward preparedness today.

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