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California’s Earthquake Early Warning Alerts Now Standard on Android Phones

Courtesy photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash

On Tuesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that, in partnership with Google, the forthcoming update to the company’s Android operating system will incorporate California’s earthquake early warning technology into all Android phones.

The system will use the same data feed to receive and distribute alerts as the state’s Earthquake Early Warning System, which was announced by the governor and Office of Emergency Services last fall.

“It’s not every day that Silicon Valley looks to state government for state-of-the-art innovation, but that’s exactly what is happening today,” said Newsom. “This announcement means that California’s world-class Earthquake Early Warning System will be a standard function on every Android phone — giving millions precious seconds to drop, cover and hold on when the big one hits.”

The Earthquake Early Warning System, which launched last October, marries the “MyShake” app with traditional alert and warning delivery methods such as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). The new Google technology builds upon the backbone created by the state to provide seconds of advance warning before the ground starts to shake from a nearby quake. Android users who have enabled location services and are near a minimum 4.5-magnitude quake will receive a full-screen earthquake warning with magnitude and distance estimates.

While the state’s application has been downloaded more than a million times, the new Google technology will automatically be included in Android phones used in California, without the need to download a separate app.

Warnings delivered through the system are based on a computerized program called ShakeAlert, operated by the Office of Emergency Services and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that analyzes data from seismic networks in California, calculates preliminary magnitudes, and then estimates which areas will feel shaking.

Google has also announced that Android phones will be part of the Android Earthquake Alerts System. “All smartphones come with tiny accelerometers that can sense signals that indicate an earthquake might be happening. If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to our earthquake detection server, along with a coarse location of where the shaking occurred. The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening. We’re essentially racing the speed of light (which is roughly the speed at which signals from a phone travel) against the speed of an earthquake,” the company on a blog post.

Earthquake-prone countries like Mexico and Japan have long had earthquake early warning systems, with alerts typically delivered through cellphones or public address systems. However, California is the first state in the U.S. to offer earthquake early warning.  

To learn more about earthquake preparedness and download the earthquake early warning application, visit: earthquake.ca.gov.

August 14, 2020

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