New app can provide earthquake warnings

ShakeAlertLA enforces greater safety precautions during earthquakes by sending “limited public notifications” to users seconds before the disaster. (Tucker Judkins/Daily Trojan)

Angelenos may now receive early warnings for earthquakes by using the ShakeAlertLA app, which launched Dec. 31, according to LA Curbed.

According to the California Geological Survey and the U.S. Geological Survey, California is ranked the second-most seismic state in the country. In its U.S. National Seismic Hazard Model update last year, the U.S. Geological Survey found that there is at least a 74 percent chance that California will experience earthquake damage in the next century.

ShakeAlertLA notifies users seconds before an earthquake hits. Additionally, the app also records recent earthquakes with a magnitude greater than 3.0 and lists the proper protocol used to recover from an earthquake or prepare for one.

According to ShakeAlertLA’s website, the app plans to send “limited public notifications,” alerting communities about earthquakes with a magnitude of 5.0 or higher. These notifications will alert users in a similar fashion to Amber alerts.

The Annenberg Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey and AT&T collaborated to launch the app, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti overseeing the development.

Steven Goldfarb, fire safety and emergency planning specialist at USC, was involved in the beta testing — or the initial product testing — of the app. Goldfarb said that ShakeAlertLA will allow people to take quick, direct action to avoid injury and other potential damage.

“Trains can be slowed down, fire station doors can be automated to open and hazardous activities could be stopped before the shaking begins,” Goldfarb said.

Marshall Rogers-Martinez, a doctoral student in geological sciences, recently served as a teaching assistant of a USC course on earthquakes. Rogers-Martinez said that he has had previous experiences using the app in its beta form while visiting the Southern California Earthquakes Center.

When he first tested the beta form, he found that the app alerts users when an inputted location undergoes a P wave — the first set of seismic energy to hit a location.

“I’ve been in the SCEC office during a Shake Alert, and it was really cool,”  Rogers-Martinez said. “[The alert] showed an animation of the P wave emanating from the source overlaid on a regional map.”

He said the app has the potential to make a difference, especially in local communities where buildings may be more susceptible to earthquake-induced damages.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the city is home to 13,500 soft story buildings that could be susceptible to strong shaking during an earthquake. There are also approximately 1,000 inadequately reinforced concrete buildings that could face similar issues during an earthquake.

“I think it’s really great that Angelenos will finally have access to an earthquake early warning system,” Rogers-Martinez said. “It has the potential to save lives.”

However, the app does have some limitations it has yet to address. As with any notification, users will not receive alerts if their phones are off during the earthquake. The proximity of an earthquake may also cause further limitations, SCEC Associate Director Mark Benthien said.

“If you’re very close [to the earthquake], you may feel it before you get the alert,” Benthien said.