App warns California residents of imminent earthquakes

World Today

More than ten-thousand earthquakes strike the state of California each year. Most, of course, aren’t felt.

But seismologists warn something major could hit at any time.

And a new app launched by the city of Los Angeles aims at giving residents some warning.

CGTN’s Phil Lavelle reports.

Nobody saw the 1994 Northridge quake coming. But what if they had? 57 people were killed and thousands injured in magnitude 6.7 quake. Would a few seconds’ warning have made a difference?

“A scalpel could be lowered during surgery, a train could be stopped,” John Stewart, an earthquake expert at the University of California, Los Angeles, said.

And it could next time. LA’s residents can now be alerted of an incoming shake directly to their phones. The app is called Shake Alert LA, available on iPhone and Android.

Developed by the City of LA, it sends warnings by push notifications, the kind you get with emails or news alerts. And it uses open-source data given out by the United States Geological Survey.

Robert Degroot of the USGS Earthquake Science Center explains, “Across the west coast, we’re installing 1,675 seismic stations, the devices that pick up the data when the earthquake reaches the surface.”

Wendy Yost is a major earthquake survivor twice over: San Francisco in 1989, Northridge in 1994. Asked if she had received alerts then, she says, “15 seconds warning in either of the earthquakes I was a part of, I probably would have gotten to a public space faster.”

Deep in the bowels of the University of California, Los Angeles, they run earthquake simulations and test how concrete walls would hold up. They’re big fans of the early warning system, but know it won’t mean equal warning for all.

According to Stewart, “Where earthquake early warning is most effective is when the source — where the fault is rupturing — is far away from the site that we’re concerned about.”

Californian is on a constant state of standby. Seismologists fully expect what’s been nicknamed ‘the big one’ to strike at any time. Way bigger than Northridge. It’s long overdue.

It’s hoped the devices that make life increasingly convenient, can one day help save lives in another earthquake.