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Allen Institute to become part of ShakeAlert® Earthquake early warning system along the west coast

Emergency alerts provide vital seconds for people to shelter in place or better secure their environment


3 min read

Today, the Allen Institute has become the first scientific research institute in the country to be a part of the US Geological Survey-managed ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System. Institute staff will receive emergency alerts on their computer screens that could provide seconds of warning before earthquake shaking begins, allowing individuals to Drop, Cover, and Hold On.

“ShakeAlert will complement our ongoing efforts to mitigate earthquake hazards and enhance the safety of our laboratories,” said Steve Hurley, Director of Environment, Health and Safety at the Allen Institute. “This early warning system is especially important given Seattle’s proximity and position relative to several fault lines in and around the Pacific Northwest.”

ShakeAlert currently uses 1381 seismic stations (with a goal of 1,675 stations by 2025) strategically placed along the West Coast of the United States. These stations detect the faster, usually weaker, p-waves that are the first to radiate from the epicenter of an earthquake. The data from these waves are then used to estimate the location, size (magnitude) and shaking intensity of the quake. These data are transmitted to buildings with early warning systems like the Allen Institute, which can then deliver ShakeAlert-powered alerts to people or trigger automated actions before the slower, more destructive s-waves surge through the area. Distance from the quake’s epicenter is one factor that impacts how much time individuals will have to take protective actions such as Dropping (to the ground), Covering (their body), and Holding On (to stable structures) before shaking begins.

“ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning is an important tool in our risk reduction toolbox,” said Robert de Groot of the USGS Earthquake Science Center in Pasadena, CA. “Now that the Allen Institute is ‘Powered by ShakeAlert,’ it is a model for other scientific research facilities throughout Washington, Oregon and California.”

This potentially life-saving detection system has many use cases for the public beyond allowing individuals to shelter in place.

  • Medical: halting dental operations, surgery, laser procedures

  • Industrial: closing valves, slowing or stopping production lines and sensitive processes, moving employees away from hazardous materials

  • Office: stopping elevators at the nearest floor and opening the doors, moving away from windows to interior/safer spaces

  • Construction: placing cranes and lifts in safe positions, moving people from unsafe locations

  • Utilities: opening/closing critical valves in pipelines; shutting down systems, reroute power, securing field personnel in safe positions

  • Transportation: slowing or stopping trains, stopping airport take-offs and landing, closing vulnerable bridges, slowing or stopping traffic by turning all signals red, including freeway entrances

  • Restaurants: shutting off heat sources, securing/avoiding dangerous areas like deep fryers

  • Schools: warning students and staff to take a protective action such as Drop, Cover, and Hold On

  • Emergency management: alert first-responders in the field to temporarily retreat to safe spaces, triggering doors to open for emergency vehicles, start generators

  • Vehicles: instruct alerted drivers to turn on emergency flasher (to warn others) and to slow down

Earthquake early warning systems like ShakeAlert can save lives, reduce damage to property and infrastructure, reduce economic impacts of damage, and speed the return to normal operations and community recovery.


About the Allen Institute

The Allen Institute is an independent, 501(c)(3) nonprofit research organization founded by philanthropist and visionary, the late Paul G. Allen. The Allen Institute is dedicated to answering some of the biggest questions in bioscience and accelerating research worldwide. The Institute is a recognized leader in large-scale research with a commitment to an open science model. Its research institutes and programs include the Allen Institute for Brain Science, launched in 2003, the Allen Institute for Cell Science, launched in 2014, the Allen Institute for Immunology, launched in 2018, the MindScope Program, launched in 2020, and the Allen Institute for Neural Dynamics, launched in 2021. In 2016, the Allen Institute expanded its reach with the launch of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, which identifies pioneers with new ideas to expand the boundaries of knowledge and make the world better. For more information, visit

About ShakeAlert

ShakeAlert® is an earthquake early warning (EEW) system that detects significant earthquakes so quickly that alerts can reach many people before shaking arrives. ShakeAlert is not earthquake prediction, rather a ShakeAlert Message indicates that an earthquake has begun and shaking is imminent.

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