The City of Los Angeles Developed a Mobile App That Warns Its Residents When an Earthquake Is Happening

The new mobile app will alert users to earthquakes 5.0 magnitude or larger.

Residents in the Los Angeles County can now be better informed about earthquakes with the launch of the app ShakeAlertLA.

The publicly available mobile app uses US Geological Survey’s (USGS) early warning sensor network to indicate when an earthquake of 5.0 magnitude or larger is about to shake their location. 

Even a few seconds warning is enough time for residents to take cover, stop their vehicle, exit an elevator or simple drop and hold on says the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, explained.

The app is currently only available to Los Angeles County but Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory hope that the app's coverage will increase. 

ShakeAlert embedded in public services

The app is available for both Android and Apple smartphones. Public Service Agencies along the West coast have been utilizing the USGS’ early warning sensor network since October, there isn’t a technology currently available that can alert residents over the whole region. 

One of these services is the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system. BART is connected to ShakeAlert when the system sends out alerts the BART will automatically paste and adjust its services and individual trains to mitigate potential accidents or derailments.

Existing warning systems are too slow says Allen. The recently created Presidential Alert which sends a text message to all turned on phones within range of a cell tower was slow to be received by some users says Allen. 

“The purpose of the early warning is to get people into that safe place before the shaking starts instead of once the shaking starts,” he said.

“If you have a few seconds, you can get under a sturdy table, you can get away from that bookcase, you can move away from hazardous materials, you can move away from the places you are likely to be injured.” 

West Coast population at high risk

Allen hopes that the ShakeAlert would help speed up the development of alert technology across more regions. More than 143 million Americans live in areas under earthquake threat. 

Most of that population live on the West coast. California has a 99.7 chance of a magnitude 6.7 or larger earthquake occurring in the next 30 years.

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“The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has estimated the average annualized loss from earthquakes, nationwide, to be $5.3 billion, with 77 percent of that figure ($4.1 billion) coming from California, Washington, and Oregon, and 66 percent ($3.5 billion) from California alone,” warns the ShakeAlert website.