Seattle Week in Review: ShakeAlert, Rattle, Easter Egg Roll

Easter Sunday looks to be one of the nicest weather days in Seattle since I’m not sure when. The water year that began in October now ranks as the fourth-wettest in recorded Seattle history, with nearly 43 inches of rain as of Thursday. Enjoy the sun. But first, check out our review of local tech news:

—This week, we brought you news of a new early-stage venture fund being organized in Seattle by a trio of angel investors. The people behind Flying Fish Partners aren’t saying much yet, but they do note investments in three local startups.

—Seattle-based international money transfer provider Remitly has added the United Kingdom as its third “send” country, allowing people living there to send money to India and the Philippines. Remitly already offers its services in the U.S. and Canada. Here’s a recent story on Remitly’s efforts to advocate for immigrants and immigration policy reform.

—Seattle-based VR startup Pluto VR raised $13.9 million from Seattle-area venture firms. As GeekWire reports, the Series A funding round was led by Maveron, whose co-founder, Dan Levitan, joins the board. Madrona Venture Group and Trilogy Equity Partners participated in the funding, as well as individual investors.

—Microsoft is pursuing a novel electricity-buying arrangement in Washington that would allow it to contract directly with renewable energy producers instead of buying power through investor-owned utility Puget Sound Energy. As The Seattle Times’ reports, Microsoft’s pursuit of carbon-free power “shows how the private sector can help push suppliers toward alternative-power sources, even as the Trump administration calls for production of fossil fuels.”

—The University of Washington and Tohoku University of Japan announced a new effort to collaborate on research and education in areas including clean energy technology for transportation, materials, and seismic engineering.

The two institutions have strengths in similar fields. The regions where they’re located also share substantial earthquake risks. As noted in a news release announcing the collaboration: “Tohoku University is home to the International Research Institute of Disaster Science, established shortly after the region saw heavy damage and loss of life in the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. A similar event could strike the Pacific Northwest at any time.”

The Academic Open Space, as this more formalized pan-Pacific effort is being called, will build on existing collaborations between researchers at the two universities in aerospace design and composite materials. The effort is being led by Fumio Ohuchi, interim chair of the UW Department of Materials Science & Engineering.

“By location, faculty expertise, industrial partners, and even shared seismic hazards, there are many ways that these two universities complement one another and can work well together,” Ohuchi said in a news release.

—Speaking of seismic risk and Tohoku, the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network announced the release of a “production prototype” of the ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system for Washington and Oregon. The prototype became available in California last year. It’s designed to give government agencies, utilities, and companies—and eventually the general public, if funding materializes—at least a few seconds of advance notice that shaking is about to begin, and how severe it’s expected to be.

The system has been available to a group of beta users including Boeing, Microsoft, Sound Transit, and others since 2015. This week, the PNSN said early users are now integrating the alerts into earthquake response systems to automate the shutdown of critical infrastructure upon receipt of a warning.

As the video below explains, the ShakeAlert system is designed to work like this: Monitoring stations detect the faster-moving but less-damaging seismic waves that emit from beneath an earthquake’s epicenter, triggering warnings that are sent out to users before the slower but larger-amplitude damaging waves arrive. The idea is this would give people enough time to “drop, cover, and hold on,” step away from dangerous machines or chemical storage, and shut off gas and electrical supplies to reduce potential damage from the quake.

Various government agencies receiving the alerts can also stop traffic on roads, rails, and airport runways; stop surgeries; and prepare for emergency response.

Of course, the amount of warning anyone receives will depend on their distance from the epicenter.

The system has been funded thus far through public-private partnerships including the U.S. Geological Survey, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, the California Geological Survey, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Washington, the University of Oregon, the University of Nevada at Reno and Central Washington University.

The USGS says another $38.3 million is needed to develop the system to the point where it can issue public alerts. It will require a $16.1 million annual budget for operations and maintenance.

In March, the U.S. House passed the Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2017, which, among other things, directs the Federal Emergency Management Agency to fund an earthquake early warning system.

Photo credit: “Easter eggs” by Tristan Schmurr used under a Creative Commons license

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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