The city of Los Angeles has become the first in the U.S. to come out with a publicly available app that alerts users of when an earthquake is expected to shake.
The app, called ShakeAlertLA, has been available for download in app stores since December 31, 2018, but its official announcement came Thursday, January 3 at Los Angeles City Hall.
“Angelenos should have every chance to protect themselves and their families when there’s a major earthquake,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose office partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), AT&T, and the Annenberg Foundation in developing the app.
“We created the ShakeAlertLA app because getting a few seconds’ heads-up can make a big difference if you need to pull to the side of the road, get out of an elevator, or drop, cover, and hold on,” said Garcetti.
Using a network of seismic sensors distributed through a regional network formed to detect earthquakes, the app sends alerts to smartphones when an earthquake registered with a magnitude 5.0 or stronger is expected to be felt in the Los Angeles area.
In a county where talks of the hypothetical earthquake — often referred to as ‘the big one’ — are common, the app provides some kind of relief to Angelenos when it comes to earthquake preparedness.
“Earthquakes are a fact of life in Los Angeles, a challenge we’ll always have to face. That’s why early earthquake warnings must also be a fact of life — on our phones and on our tablets the very moment they’re available,” said Wallis Annenberg, Chairman and President of the Annenberg Foundation, which gave a grant of $260,000 for the app’s development in 2017.
“The ShakeAlertLA app is an extraordinary breakthrough, an early warning system that’s literally at our fingertips,” she added. “In a natural disaster, one extra second can save a life, and this app can provide that.”
The USGS has been developing the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system for over a decade, collaborating with organizations and institutions across the entire west coast, including the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Caltech, UC Berkeley, the California Geological Survey, and the University of Nevada in Reno.
Aside from sending out the warnings, the app also offers maps locating recent local earthquakes, an earthquake survival kit checklist, and other county-specific information on what to do before and after a major earthquake hits.
As other countries such as Japan and Mexico have found similar earthquake warning apps to be beneficial in the event of an earthquake, seismologists and the developers behind ShakeAlertLA hope the app will eventually be adopted by the entire West Coast.
“The City of L.A. is an important ShakeAlert partner, undertaking the Nation’s first test of delivering USGS-generated ShakeAlerts to a large population using a City-developed cell phone app,” said James Reilly, USGS Director. “What we learn from this expanded pilot in LA will be applied to benefit the entire current and future ShakeAlert system.”
ShakeAlertLA is now available on Android and Apple app stores in both English and Spanish.