Google’s Android Earthquake Alerts System

Google, a California-based multinational technology company that focuses on search engine technology, online advertising, cloud computing, computer software, quantum computing, e-commerce, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics, recently launched its Android Earthquake Alerts System a no-cost, helpful Android feature that detects earthquakes around the world and alerts people in Pakistan. With the expansion of this earthquake alert system, Android users in Pakistan may receive automatic early warning alerts that help them be prepared for an emergency.

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, a free service that detects earthquakes worldwide 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 – which 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 the 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 determine 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 of 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 epicenter.
  • Respects the Volume, Do Not Disturb, and Notification settings on the user’s device.

2. Take Action Alert

  • It is a full-screen alert designed to get the user’s attention before (s)he experiences moderate to heavy shaking, so that (s)he can take action to protect himself/herself.
  • They are 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 the screen and play a loud sound.
  • To help people prepare for potential heavy shaking, Full-screen instructions are shown to help people prepare for possible heavy shaking, 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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