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Google’s Android Earthquake Alerts System

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Google’s Android Earthquake Alerts System

Earthquakes happen daily around the world, with hundreds of millions of people living in earthquake-prone regions. An early warning can help people prepare for shaking, but the public infrastructure to detect and alert everyone for an earthquake is costly to build and deploy. Google saw an opportunity to use Android to provide people with timely, helpful earthquake information when they use Google search, and a few seconds warning to get themselves and their loved ones to safety if needed. This is called the Android Earthquake Alerts System, which is a free service that detects earthquakes around the world and can alert Android users before shaking starts.

The system
The system uses accelerometers in active android smartphones to detect seismic activities. It alerts people in two ways: via search and directly on the android mobile device itself and provides near-instant information to Google Search. When people look up “earthquake” or “earthquake near me,” they will find relevant results, along with helpful resources on what to do after an earthquake.

In the US states of California, Washington and Oregon, Google partners with the ShakeAlert – that uses a network of 1675 seismic sensors to detect earthquake shaking and analyzes the data to determine the location and magnitude of the earthquake – to send an earthquake alert directly to Android users. However, outside of these states, Google uses a crowd-sourced approach to detect earthquakes.

The Android Earthquake Alerts System was first introduced in New Zealand and Greece. It is available now in more countries including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Philippines, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United States of America and Uzbekistan.

How it works
All smartphones contain tiny accelerometers that can sense vibrations and speed, signals that indicate an earthquake might be happening. If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to Google’s 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. This approach uses the 2+billion Android phones in use around the world as mini-seismometers to create the world’s largest earthquake detection network; the phones detect the vibration and speed of shaking of an earthquake, and alert Android users in affected areas accordingly.
How alerts are received

On mobile devices, the Android Earthquake Alerts System displays two types of alerts, depending on the magnitude and intensity of the earthquake.

1. Be Aware Alert
· Designed to give Android users a heads up for light shaking, and provide more information when the user taps on the notification.
· Only sent to users who will experience MMI 3 & 4 shaking during an earthquake of magnitude 4.5 or greater
· The notification is sent along with the distance of the earthquake’s epicentre.
· Respects the Volume, Do Not Disturb and Notification settings on user’s device.

2. Take Action Alert
· It is a full-screen alert designed to get user’s attention before (s)he experiences moderate to heavy shaking, so that (s)he can take action to protect himself/herself.
· Only sent to users who will experience MMI 5+ shaking during an earthquake of magnitude 4.5 or greater.
· Will break through Do Not Disturb settings, turn on screen and play a loud sound.
· To help people prepare for potential heavy shaking, full-screen instructions are shown and the phone plays a loud sound.
Note: Users who do not wish to receive these alerts can turn this off in device settings.

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