Your Android phone can notify you of an earthquake seconds before it happens. Here’s how

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Image: Google

If you live in an area prone to earthquakes, you would probably feel the ground shaking without warning. But in recent years, technology has allowed governments and independent companies to create earthquake warning systems.

These systems, like Google’s Android Earthquake Alert System, cannot predict an earthquake, as that technology does not yet exist. But it can give people seconds of warning to take action to prepare.

On October 25, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area. Twitter users he thanked Google for the warning, saying they found a notice of the impending earthquake only a few seconds before they could feel the ground shaking.

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Google’s earthquake detection is available worldwide but is more advanced in California, Oregon and Washington, where more seismometer systems can communicate with Google’s servers.

Google’s earthquake alert uses data from Android phones and the phones’ accelerometers, which are small sensors that, when used together, can detect an earthquake just before it hits. Accelerometers in phones are how Android phones can alert people in areas that don’t have seismometer systems to an earthquake.

Those sensors send signals to Google’s earthquake detection server, along with a rough calculation of the earthquake’s location, and Android users are then notified of ground shaking activity.

Technology is constantly evolving to help keep us safe, like Google’s earthquake detection system and Apple’s crash detection. iPhone users can also receive earthquake alerts — through iPhone Settings in some locations, or from a third-party app. This week’s shakeup drew comparisons between Android and iPhone alerts.

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David Kleidermacher, a member of the Google security team, tips that Google embraces the “open power,” and other companies do not. He stated that Apple did not notify an iPhone user in his office about an earthquake until it happened.

Google says that seismometer systems are expensive to build and use, so the solution is to use Android phones as mini-seismometers. But as Robert de Groot, a member of the ShakeAlert operations team, told Wired, for phones to work as earthquake detectors, people have to be close to the earthquake.

As Google refines the technology, they hope to alert people to an earthquake with more seconds between the notification and an active earthquake. The technology is still new and underdeveloped, so it may take a while before people even have a moment to take cover.



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