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'Shake Alert' warning system could give you early heads up ahead of earthquake

Cascadia Subduction Zone (USGS)

New research has scientists closer to pinpointing when and where the next earthquake will happen.

When the Cascadia Subduction Zone breaks, scientists think it could cause a 4-story high tsunami and a 9.0 earthquake. But research from Oregon State University shows in the last 10,000 years, some parts of the zone have been moving around more than others.

"Southern Oregon and northern California are much more active... 22 additional events down there."

Scientists think that makes it about twice as likely that a "mini Big One" will happen first in those areas, and then make its way to us.

"An 8.0 in southern Oregon, northern California is going to shake us royally. It may cause a tsunami and it will affect everyone in the Northwest," Portland State Geology Professor Scott Burns said.

He added earthquakes are the one natural disaster we can't predict, but scientists are gathering more and more data at faults around the world.

"They actually have acoustic recordings, they have microphones in the ground," he said.

Thanks to "Shake Alert," a warning system would buzz on your phone if and when the quake rolls out of southern Oregon.

"Seattle will have almost 10 minutes, we'll have 5 minutes.... that's a huge amount of time," Burns said.

It's enough time for people to get off a bridge about to fall or out of a building about to crumble.

"In the building I live in, I don't know that 5 minutes could get everybody out. It's a big building... a lot of people would panic," Robert Birge said.

"How am I going to get from PSU to Beaverton where I live to be with my family members which is who I care about?" Moira Sullivan said.

Burns says scientists are working toward a longer warning system, but don't expect it to get past 5 minutes... for now.

"We're working on it. We haven't gotten the magic bullet, but we're getting there," Burns said.

The Shake Alert warning system is expected to be up and running some time next year.

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