Google’s Android earthquake alerts go live in two new countries

Chris Davies - Apr 28, 2021, 12:00pm CDT
Google’s Android earthquake alerts go live in two new countries

Android’s Earthquake Alerts System is spreading beyond the US for the first time, bringing both detection and warnings using Android smartphones for potentially dangerous quakes. The expansion will begin in Greece and New Zealand, Google says, neither of which currently have early warning alert systems.

The Android Earthquake Alerts System launched last year, with Google working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS). It relies on the accelerometers commonplace in Android smartphones to track seismic waves: if the phone believes that the shaking it’s recording could be from an earthquake, that data is passed to Google’s servers along with a course record of the phone’s location at the time.

Obviously, it takes more than just one such report to confirm a quake. Google collates the data from multiple phones to figure out if there really is an earthquake, and if so where it might be and of what magnitude. If you search “Earthquake near me” the service will show the information Google has calculated, while – in the US – it’s also passed over to third-party service ShakeAlert.

It’s ShakeAlert which is responsible for actually sending out notifications, initially launching the service in California. Availability expanded recently to Oregon, and come May people in Washington will also be able to sign up. For Greece and New Zealand, however, Google has taken a different route.

Instead of a third-party partner, Android itself will be responsible for the warning notifications. It’s the first time the OS will handle both detection and alerts, Google says, Android users will automatically get early warning alerts of an earthquake in their area, though they’ll be able to turn it off in the device settings if they prefer not to see them.

While those warnings may not be a prediction of quakes far in the future, Google says that studies suggest even just a few seconds can make a difference for how successfully you ride out an incident. Indeed, more than half of injuries can apparently be prevented, should early warnings be heeded.

Some locations prone to earthquakes already have high-resolution sensors installed, which track tremors and issue alerts accordingly. However they’re expensive and complex, and while commonplace in California, not every state or country enjoys the same. By tapping existing sensors in Android phones, Google argues, along with the mass market spread of those devices, it can deliver a crowdsourced alternative to the dedicated hardware.


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