The Cascadia subduction zone, which stretches off the West Coast from Vancouver Island to Northern California, is expected to produce a 9.0-magnitude earthquake sometime in the future. And when it does, Albany hopes to give its residents precious few additional moments to prepare.

The city is part of a pilot program for the ShakeAlert system, a network of sensors meant to serve as an early warning system for earthquake events. According to Albany Operations Director Chris Bailey, a warning could come anywhere from mere seconds to two minutes prior to shaking, depending on where the earthquake originates.

“Our plan is to start small,” Bailey said.

The sensor, which came at a cost of approximately $6,000 to the city, was installed Friday into the city’s central systems server where employees can already remotely close reservoir valves. The intention is that the sensor would alert the system to a coming earthquake and trigger the reservoirs' automatic closure.

“The reason we’re starting there is, there is no danger in the reservoir valves being shut off in the case of a false alarm,” Bailey said.

If the system did trigger a false alarm, city personnel could simply open those valves again.

Bailey said the importance of closing the reservoir comes down to water: “In most of these instances, cities lose their ability to make water. We want to keep the water we have.”

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That water can then be used by to residents, but it would require the city to overcome power outage issues — should they occur — in order to use pumps that deliver water from underground pipes. Bailey also said the Fire Department could use the water to fight blazes that may occur after the initial shaking.

For Oregon to have a fully functioning early alert system, it needs to have 75% of the 238 sensors statewide installed and operational, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which funds the program with federal grants. By August of this year, 59% of the sensors are expected to be installed.

Albany and Grants Pass are pilot cities in the program, Bailey said. A consultant will work with the city at a cost of approximately $5,000 to program the device.

Bailey said that eventually, the sensor could be used to warn the public of an impending earthquake but that residents should be prepared with earthquake kits and the understanding that they could be on their own for several days in terms of supplies.

When the sensor does transition to a public warning system, it’s expected to give residents up to two minutes in the case of the Cascadia Quake. If a quake were to originate in Salem, said Bailey, that warning would diminish to just seconds.

“I have high hopes for the program,” Bailey said, noting that, eventually, the sensor would function to notify the public of a coming earthquake. “I think it’s going to be cool.”

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