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#EarthquakePH: Here’s how Google warns of earthquakes before they happen

By SAAB LARIOSA Published Sep 27, 2021 3:12 pm

ICYMI: A magnitude 5.7 earthquake occurred in Occidental Mindoro with quakes being felt all over Luzon a little past 1 a.m. on Sept. 27. At least 23 aftershocks were reported by the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) after the quake.

With #EarthquakePH trending after the incident, social media was also soon flooded with Android users sharing that their smartphones alerted them a few minutes before the earthquake hit. Though it’s a quick notification, it’s still crucial to know when potential danger will hit. So, how does Google do that?

It takes a whole lot of data

Per a Google blog post published in August 2020, they first collaborated with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to send pilot-tested earthquake alerts to Android devices.

"All smartphones come with tiny accelerometers that can sense signals that indicate an earthquake might be happening," Google explained. "If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to our earthquake detection server, along with a coarse location of where the shaking occurred. The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening."

Basically, your phone becomes a portable seismometer, or earthquake detector, through the use of ground data and millions of other Android devices all over the world to be part of a network for earthquake detection.

"We’re essentially racing the speed of light (which is roughly the speed at which signals from phone travel) against the speed of an earthquake. And lucky for us, the speed of light is much faster!"

Though it was only released in August 2020, it's become an inventive way for people to be notified of any forthcoming danger, or at least be prepared when the shockwaves come.

As of writing, this feature is not yet possible with Apple devices. It made its first appearance in the Philippines in July 2021.

Banner photo from Unsplash