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The U.S. Geological Survey Is Rolling Out an Earthquake Early Warning System in Oregon Next Month

ShakeAlert can detect the magnitude and location of a coming quake, and send alerts via cellphone and the internet moments before it hits.

In just the last year, Oregon has seen fire, ice, mudslides and disease—there was even a tornado in Portland not that long ago.

That leaves, of course, one major disaster on the checklist. Please knock on the biggest damn piece of wood you can find.

If the Big One can wait at least another couple of weeks, though, Oregonians will have the option of getting a heads-up before it strikes.

On March 11, the U.S. Geological Survey is rolling out its earthquake early warning system, ShakeAlert, in Oregon. It will be the second state to receive the system—California, naturally, was the first, in 2019. Washington state will follow in May.

How does it work? According to the USGS website, the system consists of "a network of sensors" that can detect the magnitude and location of a coming quake, and send alerts via cellphone and the internet moments before it hits. Although the warning comes only seconds before the shaking begins, it can trigger automatic processes with partner agencies, such as stopping trains to prevent derailments and closing water valves.

An app will also be available for the public to receive the alerts and theoretically claim a spot under a sturdy desk before anyone else can get to it.

Over the past two years, the USGS has been expanding its sensor network along the West Coast. It is now 70% complete, the agency says, with 1,132 seismic stations installed as of January.

Related: Do We Really Need Those Ominous Signs Warning Us That Buildings Will Crumble in an Earthquake?