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White House backs quake warning system

Image: Tsunami
A computer simulation shows how a tsunami wave is thought to have spread across the Pacific two and a half hours after a magnitude-9.2 earthquake that occurred in the Cascadia subduction zone in the year 1700. (Credit: NOAA / NWS / Pacific Tsunami Warning Center)

A public-private campaign to improve America’s resilience to future earthquakes, like the “Really Big One” that’s expected to hit the Pacific Northwest someday, received a multimillion-dollar boost today.

The new initiatives are aimed at minimizing the multibillion-dollar impact of large-scale seismic shocks: They range from a White House drive to upgrade federal facilities throughout the country, to a $100,000 grant from Puget Sound Energy Foundation to install seismometers throughout Washington state.

“We do need to make sure, for the next ‘Big One,’ no matter what it is … that a natural phenomenon doesn’t become a human tragedy,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who grew up in Seattle, said during today’s webcast of the White House Earthquake Resilience Summit.

White House science adviser John Holdren noted that more than 74 million Americans in 39 states are at risk from the effects of seismic shaking. However, three-quarters of the risk is concentrated on the West Coast, primarily in California, Washington and Oregon, he said.

Californians are familiar with the quake risk, thanks to temblors ranging from San Francisco’s “Big One” in 1906 to the 2014 South Napa earthquake. The Pacific Northwest risk came into the spotlight last July when The New Yorker published a scary article about the potential for a mega-quake in the Cascadia subduction zone.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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