Google has recently announced that its Android devices will start providing people with timely and helpful earthquake information, beginning with California.

In its press release, Google noted how earthquakes happen daily around the world, with hundreds of millions of people living in earthquake-prone regions. The tech giant, which commercially supports the Android operating system, plans to create the world's largest earthquake detection network starting with California.

A Partnership with the Golden State

Google teamed up with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to send the alerts. The earthquake alert system is powered by ShakeAlert and sent to Android devices in California.

ShakeAlert is an earthquake early warning (EEW) system, which is a collaborative effort between state agencies, including USGS, Cal OES, and its academic partners, including the University of California, Berkeley, University of Washington, and the University of Oregon. It is also supported by the ETH Zurich and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

The ShakeAlert system picks up signals from more than 700 seismometers installed all across the state by USGS and its partners. Sensors are placed about six to twelve miles apart from each other. In the event of a quake, the fault generates the p-wave seismic signals, followed by the s-wave signals. These p-waves, which travel faster, are picked up by the sensors and immediately transmitted to the ShakeAlert processing center.

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After processing the data, a message is received by their delivery partners that will, in turn, generate the alert that will notify the people in the area. According to the ShakeAlert website, studies conducted in Washington, Oregon, and California showed that warning time varies from a few seconds to tens of seconds. It is more than enough to tell people to drop, cover, and hold, or even allow trains to slow down or prevent vehicles from entering tunnels and bridges.

The Role of Android Devices in Earthquake Detection

Most smartphones now come with miniature accelerometers that can help detect the occurrence of an earthquake. An individual, upon picking up a tremor, will inform the earthquake detection server, along with an estimated location where the signal was picked up. If the same signal was detected across some phones, a quake might actually be occurring at the site where the reports come from.

Aside from verifying the occurrence of an earthquake based on concurrent alerts, Google will also use the data to upload a quick update on its search engine. When users search for the word "earthquake" or "earthquake near me," relevant results on the user's area are provided, as well as useful information such as what to do during or after an earthquake.

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Google also announced that it is working with globally-renowned experts in seismology and disasters. It includes Dr. Richard Allen, Director of the Berkeley Seismology Lab; Dr. Qingkai Kong, Assistant Data Science Researcher at Berkeley Seismology Lab and Berkeley Division Data Sciences; and Dr. Lucy Jones, Founder and Chief Scientist of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society.