Smartphone Quake Warning Could Save Lives

Earthquakes occur with no warning, causing damage and injury and sometimes deaths, but a new smartphone quake warning system could help with warning people in advance, enabling them to travel out of the area or seek shelter. The smartphone quake warning system is being created by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and NASA.

The smartphone quake warning system gets its data from crowdsourced measurements via the GPS sensors in smartphones. NASA believes that this could be used to develop an extensive network to provide earthquake detection and warnings for people, especially in places that can’t afford high-tech equipment to detect or warn of earthquakes.

Smartphone Quake Warning Detects Strong Quakes

Currently, the smartphone quake warning can only detect a quake that is at least 7 points on the Richter scale, but this could still be of great benefit, especially to those in earthquakes such as the 9-point quake in Japan in 2011. Since quakes happen in Japan often, this would be very valuable to people living there or that travel to that country.

The technology that the smartphones use to detect the quakes is much less expensive than other types of quake detection, and could warn smartphone users as soon as the earth’s ground faults start to shift and move. The U.S. Geological Survey  researchers, as well as two college research teams are working along with NASA to develop this smartphone quake warning system into a viable program.

Beneficial for Countries with No Warning System

In fact, it would be especially helpful to poorer countries such as in Indonesia and Pakistan, as well as other places with no current earthquake warning system such as South Asia, the Pacific Rim, the Caribbean, South America and Central America. A pilot program to try the smartphone quake warning system is to be tried out in Chile via the Chilean Centro Sismologico Nacional and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The GPS sensors in smartphones are not as precise as other more high-tech instruments. However, the fact that the data would be coming from thousands of GPS sensors inside the phones, it can actually make the smartphone quake warning system work more accurately than the more precise, more expensive, and fewer professional detectors.

Crowdsourcing is Key to Smartphone Quake Warning System

Crowdsourcing is the key to making the smartphone quake warning system effective and help to save lives by early earthquake detection. The system could give out a five second warning, which they could use to travel to turn off gas lines, etc. and potentially save people’s lives. Fewer than 5,000 phones are needed to make the data accurate. If data are collected from that many phones, the quake could be analyzed quickly enough to alert people to danger. The new smartphone quake warning system could be used to augment any existing warning system, thus helping to save more people as they travel around in their normal lives every day.

South America is among the regions that could find a quake warning system mighty useful: