Earthquake sensor could give Astoria early warning


September 8 — A new monitoring station could give Astorians valuable extra time to prepare for an earthquake.

In a Tuesday night meeting, city council approved the installation of a seismic sensor on the city’s property off Pipeline Road, near a Verizon cell tower.

“The warning will be short… but it might just give you just enough time to dodge or do whatever you need to do to protect yourself and your loved ones,” City Councilor Tom Brownson said.

Like other towns along the Cascadia Subduction Zone – a fault line stretching from northern California to Vancouver, British Columbia – the residents of Astoria live with the ever-present threat of a massive earthquake that could trigger landslides, topple buildings and send tsunami waves to shore. Cascadia’s last breakup dates back over 300 years.

The Astoria sensor will be part of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, a collaborative effort of the University of Oregon, the University of Washington and the US Geological Survey – and with more than 400 stations, now the second largest United States seismic network. The sensor will also provide data to ShakeAlert, an earthquake early warning system that people can access on their smartphones.

Depending on where an earthquake is occurring, the Astoria sensor may only provide tens of seconds of warning time.

But in that fraction of time, hospitals could be notified and the functions of power generation facilities and water services could be secured, said Douglas Toomey, professor in the Earth Sciences department at the University of Oregon.

“The more we can protect this critical infrastructure, the better we will recover down the road,” Toomey said.

When a foul like Cascadia breaks out, it doesn’t fail everywhere at the same time.

“It unzips like a zipper,” Toomey said.

Even a few tens of seconds might be enough for people to take cover, stand, and mentally prepare for the evacuation, as a tsunami could happen next.

Beyond the north coast, a sensor in Astoria is an asset to more remote inland communities that will also be affected by a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, Councilor Roger Rocka said.

“Having a sensor is kind of our piece of the puzzle,” he said.

The sensor and related equipment are provided free of charge to the city. Astoria will only be responsible for paying for the station’s electricity, roughly the same amount of energy used by a small light bulb, according to the University of Oregon.

The response to the danger posed by the Cascadia Subduction Zone has been mixed among cities on the North Coast over the years. Cannon Beach has invested many resources and hours studying possible escape routes and performing various scenarios. Other communities have only recently begun to discuss moving key public safety infrastructure and structures, such as school buildings, out of the danger of tsunami waves or the establishment of evacuation centers.

In recent years, authorities in Astoria have started to push for public security posts elsewhere in the city. The police station and the main fire station are housed in a single public security building in the tsunami flood zone.

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