MyShake <br/>Photo: © UC Berkeley

MyShake
Photo: © UC Berkeley

MyShake – An earthquake warning app

A newly developed free Android app aims to create a worldwide seismic detection network that could eventually warn users of impending jolts from nearby quakes.

Scientists from the University of California (UC), Berkeley released a free Android app that taps a smartphone’s ability to record ground shaking from an earthquake in February 2016.

The app, called MyShake, is available from the Google Play Store and runs in the background on little power, so that a phone’s onboard accelerometers can record local shaking any time of the day or night. For now, the app only collects information from the accelerometers, analyses it and, if it fits the vibrational profile of a quake, relays it and the phone’s GPS coordinates to the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory for analysis.

Once enough people are using the app and the bugs are worked out, however, UC Berkeley seismologists plan to use the data to warn people miles from ground zero that shaking is rumbling their way. An iPhone app is also planned.

A crowd-sourced seismic network may be the only option today for many earthquake-prone developing countries, such as Nepal or Peru, that have a sparse or no ground-based seismic network or early warning system, but do have millions of smartphone users.

Smartphones can easily measure movement caused by a quake because they have three built-in accelerometers designed to sense the orientation of the phone for display or gaming. While constantly improving in sensitivity for the benefit of gamers, however, smartphone accelerometers are far less sensitive than inground seismometers. But they are sensitive enough to record earthquakes above a magnitude 5 — the ones that do damage — within 10 kilometres. And what these accelerometers lack in sensitivity, they make up for in ubiquity.

How the app works

The app continually monitors the phone’s accelerometers and tests every motion to see if it fits the profile of an earthquake. If the algorithm decides that the shaking is from a quake, it immediately sends basic information to UC Berkeley: the time and amplitude of the shaking, and the phone’s position as measured by GPS. Cloud-based software constantly reviews all incoming data and if at least four phones detect shaking, and this represents more than 60 percent of all phones within a 10-kilometer radius of the epicentre, the program confirms an earthquake. The researchers cross-check this with the California Integrated Seismic Network, which monitors earth movement all over the state using underground seismometers. After a confirmed earthquake, the app will also send five minutes of data to the researchers, starting one minute before the quake and ending four minutes after. This happens only when the phone is plugged in and connected to a Wi-Fi network.

(UC Berkeley/ile)

Read more at MyShake-Website