President's budget could mean the end to ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system

The Oregon Coast (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - President Donald Trump released his budget proposal last week, and it could mean the end to the West Coast's ShakeAlert.

Scientists warn we are due for a massive earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone - possibly up to a magnitude 9.

If funding for the ShakeAlert program is cut, a major earthquake could hit without warning.

The program is designed to give the public anywhere from tens of seconds, to minutes of warning before an earthquake strikes.

"There's a lot you can do in that time," said Douglas Toomey, professor of geophysics at the University of Oregon. "Studies have shown in previous earthquakes, many people hurt themselves when they are caught unaware, and they start to run and things fall on them."

Several universities are involved in the program -- including the University of Oregon.

Toomey says the program is working on pilot projects with the Eugene Water and Electric Board.

"They're using the alerts to turn off the power generating facilities," said Toomey. "So, when the strong shaking passes through, those facilities are off and can come back online afterwards."

The precious seconds of warning also improves bridge safety. The program is working with the Oregon Department of Transportation to install red lights at bridges -- alerting drivers to keep off.

All along Highway 101 and Portland, we have a number of bridges that are not up to seismic code," said Toomey. "And so, one of the simple things you can do with the alert system is simply automate a response and stop traffic on those bridges."

U.S. Geological Survey officials said 23 million dollars has already been poured into the program.

Toomey stated that if this federal budget goes through, it would cut the program in 2018 -- at a time when it would have a limited public roll-out.

"The president's budget is not good for science, and so this is a science project that directly benefits the population of the Pacific Northwest. Not only would it end that project - we have four full time employees that we would lose, and I think that's bad news," said Toomey.

The president's budget is just a proposal and is not final.

Toomey told us he hopes people reach out to their representatives to ask for continued funding for the program.

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