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


Photo: Google

If you live in an earthquake-prone area, you’re used to feeling an earthquake without warning. But in recent years, technology has allowed governments and private companies to build earthquake warning systems.

These systems, such as Google’s Android Earthquake Alerts System, cannot detect an earthquake, as such technology is not yet available. But a person can warn that it takes seconds to prepare.

On October 25, a 5.1-magnitude earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area. Twitter users thanked Google for the warning, saying it had received an error future earthquake notification it was only seconds before the ground shook.

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Google’s earthquake search is available worldwide but is more advanced in California, Oregon and Washington, where there are more seismometer systems that 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. Navigation in phones is how Android phones can notify people in places where there are no seismometer systems about earthquakes.

Those sensors send signals to Google’s earthquake detection server, along with the approximate location of the earthquake, which then notifies Android users of earthquake activity.

Technology is constantly evolving to help us stay safe, such as Google’s earthquake detection system and Apple’s crash detection. iPhone users can also get earthquake alerts — through iPhone Settings in some places or from a third-party app. This week’s update compared Android and iPhone alerts.

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David Kleidermacher, a member of Google’s security team, sign Google subscribes to the “right to openness,” and other companies do not. He said Apple didn’t notify any iPhone users in his office about the earthquake until much later.

Google says that building and operating seismometer systems is expensive, so the solution is to use Android phones as small machines. But as Robert de Groot, a member of ShakeAlert’s management team, told Wired, for phones to work as earthquake monitors, people need to be close to the earthquake.

As Google refines the technology, they hope to alert people to earthquakes with more seconds between a notification and a strong earthquake. The technology is still new and underdeveloped, so it may take a minute for people to hide.


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