Earthquake App Successfully Warned Californians of Pending Quake

A big step forward in disaster preparedness

ShakeAlert announcement
Director Richard Allen (at podium) of the UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory and one of the originators of the ShakeAlert system speaks about the demonstration of BART?s response to an earthquake early-warning alert at the Downtown Berkeley station on Monday, Oct. 8, 2018 in Berkeley, Calif.
Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Can an app make your life safer? New evidence from California suggests that it can — provided it’s the right one. The Verge has more details on how ShakeAlert successfully anticipated a 6.2 magnitude earthquake that struck northern California.

Ten seconds before the quake struck, users with the application received an alert, allowing them to be prepared for the moment of impact.

ShakeAlert has been in the works for over a decade. It was first made available in Los Angeles and San Francisco, before its current status, where it’s providing information to residents of the three Pacific coast states. The app makes use of geological data and early warning sensors to send out alerts when a quake is about to strike. This week’s alert marks the first large-scale test of the system.

If you’ve ever experienced an earthquake, you know how unsettling it can be. That’s not just the initial experience of feeling the ground under one’s feet shake, but also the sensation that follows it — a mood of What the hell just happened? When a 5.8 magnitude earthquake hit Virginia 10 years ago — with the reverberations felt throughout the northeastern United States — I can still remember how unnerved I felt.

At that time, I was on the 18th floor of a building in midtown Manhattan. The panic my coworkers and I felt had less to do with the shaking and more to do with its causes. Having a system in place like this brings clarity during an ambiguous time, and feels like a clear case of advances in technology making people’s lives better.

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