Google announced it is planning to roll out an earthquake early alert system on Android phones. The system, which will first deploy in California, could provide the public with a few seconds warning before an earthquake strikes.
The benefit of Google’s new system is that it does not require the installation of a dedicated app. And, if you opt in to the new program, your Android phone will become a mini seismometer as part of the Android Earthquake Alerts System. With millions of Android phones out there, Google could potentially form the largest earthquake detection network on earth. Not every region has a network of seismometers set up as California does, so that’s where Google’s network of Android phones come in. By utilizing a phone’s accelerometers, Android devices could send a signal to an earthquake detection server when it senses an earthquake might be happening.
Google said Android devices are sensitive enough to detect both types of waves — P (primary) wave and S (secondary) wave — associated with earthquakes. People don’t normally feel the P wave which is the first and fastest wave from the epicenter, whereas the S wave, which is slower but usually larger, typically does more damage. Android devices could detect a P wave and then warn people to prepare for the S wave.
Although Google’s system can detect the occurrence, location, and strength of an earthquake using Android phones, the search giant can’t warn users closest to the epicenter in time. As Google explains:
The biggest key thing is that the phones that are nearest to the earthquake can help users away from the earthquake know about it. One of the limitations of the system is that we can’t warn all users before an earthquake reaches them. The users closest to the epicenter of the earthquake just aren’t likely to get a warning in time because we’re not predicting earthquake ahead of time.
In places where there isn’t a sophisticated network of seismometers, Google will use its network of phones to show localized results in Google searches for earthquakes. When you search “earthquake” or “earthquake near me”, for example, Google will show relevant results for your area as well as helpful resources on what actions to take after an earthquake. Once Google is happy with the accuracy of its system, it will eventually send out earthquake warnings directly to Android phones.