A New App Could Warn You When a Major Earthquake Is Coming

The Paso Robles earthquake
The Paso Robles earthquake

We've reported how a federally backed earthquake warning system called ShakeAlert is already up and running in demo mode, and how the warnings go to a list of private companies being kept secret for now.

Well, you don't need to be one of those companies to get on board with earthquake-warning technology.

UC Berkeley scientists recently unveiled a smartphone app that has the potential to do the very same thing — warn you that an earthquake is under way and could be moving toward you.

The idea behind the Android-only app, MyShake, is similar to that behind ShakeAlert: It doesn't predict an earthquake. But if one has started and is headed to a major metropolitan region like Los Angeles or the Bay Area, the warning can reach you faster than the temblor.

In the case of ShakeAlert, experts have said it could eventually give us 90 seconds warning if a major shaker on the San Andreas fault is headed our way.

MyShake isn't exactly there yet.

The folks at UC Berkeley said in a statement that MyShake will use your phone's built-in accelerometers, which tell the software if the device is upright, sideways or upside down, to detect shaking.

The technology is sensitive enough to record earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater, the university said:

For now, the app only collects information from the accelerometers, analyzes it and, if it fits the vibrational profile of a quake, relays it and the phone’s GPS coordinates to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory for analysis.

Once enough people are using it and the bugs are worked out, however, UC Berkeley seismologists plan to use the data to warn people miles from ground zero that shaking is rumbling their way. An iPhone app is also planned.

The more people who download and use the app, the more information researchers will have to help develop solid warnings.

"MyShake cannot replace traditional seismic networks like those run by the U.S. Geological Survey, UC Berkeley, the University of Washington and Caltech, but we think MyShake can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate in areas that have a traditional seismic network, and can provide life-saving early warning in countries that have no seismic network," said Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.


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