UO geologist advocates for state investment in earthquake sensors

Doug Toomey
Doug Toomey

A UO geological scientist is taking his request to Salem this week in hopes to persuade state officials to invest in monitoring sensors as part of an earthquake monitoring system.

Doug Toomey believes purchasing existing National Science Foundation sensors already in place in Oregon is an investment that can help prepare for the “big one” in Oregon.

The University of Washington and the UO cooperatively operate the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network, tracking seismic activity and assessing the likelihood of earthquake and volcanic risks.   

The UO is responsible for maintaining and monitoring sensors and stations located in Oregon. In addition, the Pacific Network Seismic Network records seismic data that is fundamental to the research programs of many PNW researchers.  According to Toomey, it serves science and public safety at the same time.

“Unfortunately, the State of Oregon has many fewer sensors than necessary, particularly in southwestern Oregon, and falls short of its neighbors in funding this vital area of public safety and research,” said Toomey in testimony.  

“While we have lagged behind our neighbors in funding this monitoring, the State of Oregon currently has an opportunity to purchase 15 seismic monitoring sensors from the National Science Foundation, and ensure this critical infrastructure stays in Oregon,” he continued.

“An investment by the State that purchases the NSF seismometers currently installed in Oregon will not only improve current monitoring of earthquake and volcanic hazards, it will also contribute infrastructure that supports Earthquake Early Warning and will help position Oregon universities for future federal investments,” said Toomey.

Given the immense length of the Cascadia Subduction Zone fault, if it were to begin rupturing in the south, Portland could receive a warning as much as three minutes – and Seattle, as much as five minutes – prior to severe shaking.  In Eugene, schools, businesses and hospitals could be warned as much as two minutes before the shaking starts.

Total cost to purchase the sensors is $670,000.  If the state doesn’t buy the sensors they will be removed and sent to another region, likely Alaska, sometime next year.

Rep. Nancy Nathanson facilitated the hearings during Legislative Days and has accompanied Toomey in sharing information with officials.

In a related effort, Toomey is working with leadership from Congressman DeFazio and members of the Oregon, Washington and California delegations, on possible funding for a public West Coast Earthquake Early Warning system operated by the U.S. Geological Survey.

By Julie Brown, Public Affairs Communications