We identify aspects of finite‐source parameterization that strongly affect the accuracy of estimated ground motion for earthquake early warning (EEW). EEW systems aim to alert users to impending shaking before it reaches them. The U.S. West Coast EEW system, ShakeAlert, currently uses two algorithms based on seismic data to characterize the earthquake’s location, magnitude, and origin time, treating it as a point or line source. From this information, ShakeAlert calculates shaking intensity and alerts locations where shaking estimates exceed a threshold. Several geodetic EEW algorithms under development would provide 3D finite‐fault information. We investigate conditions under which this information produces sufficiently better intensity estimates to potentially improve alerting. Using scenario crustal and subduction interface sources, we (1) identify the most influential source geometry parameters for an EEW algorithm’s shaking forecast, and (2) assess the intensity alert thresholds and magnitude ranges for which more detailed source characterization affects alert accuracy. We find that alert regions determined using 3D‐source representations of correct magnitude and faulting mechanism are generally more accurate than those obtained using line sources. If a line‐source representation is used and magnitude is calculated from the estimated length, then incorrect length estimates significantly degrade alert region accuracy. In detail, the value of 3D‐source characterization depends on the user’s chosen alert threshold, tectonic regime, and faulting style. For the suite of source models we tested, the error in shaking intensity introduced by incorrect geometry could reach levels comparable to the intrinsic uncertainty in ground‐motion calculations (e.g., 0.5–1.3 modified Mercalli intensity [MMI] units for MMI 4.5) but, especially for crustal sources, was often less. For subduction interface sources, 3D representations substantially improved alert area accuracy compared to line sources, and incorrect geometry parameters were more likely to cause error in calculated shaking intensity that exceeded uncertainties.

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