Scientists might not be able to predict exactly when an earthquake will hit. But seismologists are teaming up with Google to help give people as much warning as possible when one does strike. All Android phones will now serve as earthquake detectors to provide the public extra time to get to safety. And the worldwide system will help researchers collect vital data.
Google has announced (in news we first heard at Mashable) its new Android Earthquake Alerts System. It’s a cost-effective way to build de facto public infrastructure for an early earthquake warning system. It comes from the company’s work with the U.S. Geological Survey and California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. Android users in California with the ShakeAlert app already get earthquake warnings sent to their phone by more than 700 seismometers set up around the state. Here’s how it works:
“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. And lucky for us, the speed of light is much faster!”
The system provides a few seconds of warning. But that can make a huge difference. Even a moment can be enough to get away from a dangerous spot before the shaking starts. Users can also use this “technology to share a fast, accurate view of the impacted area on Google Search.” When you search for “earthquake” or “earthquake near me,” you’ll get “relevant results for your area, along with helpful resources on what to do after an earthquake.”
While this all-Android user system will start in California, “since there’s already a great seismometer-based system in place,” it will expand around the globe in the coming year, as millions of Android phones “form the world’s largest earthquake detection network” that will also provide tons of data to researchers.
Finally, spending too much time on your phone will actually help you. And everyone else.
Featured Image: Google