Cantwell, Feinstein Applaud FCC Waiver for Earthquake Early Warning System

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) today applauded a decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to grant a waiver from the “enhanced geotargeting” requirements when an earthquake early warning is being sent. 

The FCC is developing enhancements to the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to improve alerts during wildfires. However, those changes could have had the unintended consequence of delaying alert times for earthquakes, according to a June 21 letter from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to the FCC. 

“The 4.6 magnitude earthquake in Washington in July provided a reminder of the potential for a deadly earthquake along the Cascadia fault. This decision will help ensure the ShakeAlert system can provide rapid and effective early warning alerts, which will save lives and infrastructure across Washington and the West Coast. I applaud this decision and thank the FCC for listening to the scientists and stakeholders that are working to keep our communities resilient and prepared,” said Senator Cantwell. 

“I’m pleased that the FCC has granted a waiver to mobile service providers when they send earthquake early warnings issued by USGS,” said Senator Feinstein. “The ShakeAlert system is designed to give people precious seconds to get to safety ahead of a major earthquake. While I welcome the FCC’s efforts to update the Wireless Emergency Alert system, particularly in relation to wildfires, those updates must not hinder the ability to send out earthquake warnings as quickly as possible.” 

In July of this year, Senators Cantwell and Feinstein, along with 18 other members of Congress, sent a letter urging the FCC to work with USGS to ensure earthquake alerts would not be negatively affected by proposed changes to the WEA system. 

The ShakeAlert system is an earthquake early warning system developed by the USGS to distribute public alerts along the West Coast to warn users to anticipate ground shaking from a nearby earthquake. Earthquake early warning gives people time to drop, cover, and hold. Warnings must also allow enough time to slow trains, stop industrial processes, trigger back-up generators, pause surgeries at hospitals, and halt other activities that could be affected by an earthquake. 

USGS worked with a coalition of state and university partners to develop the system, including the University of Washington. It went live for testing at the beginning of 2019 up and down the West Coast. Earlier this year, Cantwell and Feinstein sent a letter to the Appropriations Committee urging $18.6 million in funding be provided for the ShakeAlert system.