Could your smartphone save your life? App designed to give earthquake warning.

A minute may not seem like a long time but when an earthquake is about to hit, a few seconds advance warning can be the difference between life and death…

A smartphone app which alerts users of an impending earthquake between one minute and a few seconds in advance of impact could be ready as early as next year, say scientists at the World Science Forum in Rio de Janiero.

The app, presented by researchers from UC Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, adapts smartphone functions such as the GPS system and accelerometer (which determines the speed at which the phone is moving) to detect P-wave tremors, their direction and the time they are likely to reach the phone’s location. It also uses algorithms and information from seismic networks to determine the location, strength of the earthquake and time it is likely to reach its zenith – using this information to issue alerts to residents in potentially affected areas.

Those located at the epicenter of the quake will not able to receive the warning via their mobile phones, however data will be transmitted in a chain to other receivers so those at a distance of a few kilometers will be able to glean more information on what is happening where and what is likely to happen next.

“All we need is a telephone at the epicenter of the quake which detects it and sends the information (saying) ‘I felt a jolt, I am in this place’ to a server,” explained Richard Allen, head of the research team at Berkeley University, California.

“There are many phones simultaneously doing this to enable the server to determine the site and magnitude of the quake to send people further away a warning. These warnings include (information on) how much time to the start of the tremor and also its intensity.”

This is precious time for people to find shelter and switch off vehicles or halt production, resulting in safer conditions when the earthquake hits and reducing the risk at large.

Currently smartphones are able to detect magnitude 5 earthquakes up to 10km away, however Allen believes it will not be long before accelerometers are improved enough to detect quakes with a 3 magnitude up to 100km away.

Information on the intensity of the quake also allows communities to make informed decisions about what action they need to take to reduce devastation. 

With 1 billion smartphones in use across the globe, it seems this technology really could save lives.

Sources include: Japan Today, The Nation, SciDev.net

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