Android Smartphones Now Detect Earthquakes And Alert People

Google is building the largest earthquake detection system by getting accelerometer data from Android smartphones.
Credit: Tumisu

Google has developed a smart way to detect earthquakes and alert smartphone users on android. Google hopes this would be a much-needed function globally, as building public infrastructures to detect earthquakes can be costly.

Around the world, In 2019 alone there were 1637 reported earthquakes which were magnitude 5 or more. Millions of people are living in earthquake-prone regions around the world. So, getting an early alert on your smartphone about an upcoming disaster, gives you heads up to get to safety. It could really come in handy.

How was it done?

As a first step, Google collaborated with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), and made them send earthquake alerts powered by ‘ShakeAlert’ system straight to Android smartphones in California.


It is an early warning system for earthquakes. It does not predict them rather let people know that an earthquake has begun. According to Google, “Developed by the nation’s leading seismologists, the ShakeAlert system uses signals from more than 700 seismometers installed across the state by USGS, Cal OES, University of California Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology. A few seconds of warning can make a difference in giving you time to drop, cover, and hold on before the shaking arrives,”

Google needed a different approach to work around the world as a ground network of seismometers is not practical globally. That is where the Android platform helps. Android smartphone now has the ability to join the “Android Earthquake Alert System” from anywhere in the world.

When there is an earthquake situation the smartphone will begin transmitting accelerometer data. This will make a strong and clear picture when thousands of smart devices begin transmitting activity patterns in a specific area. Although the accuracy is not the same as seismometers, this has the ability to cover a larger area and send information instantly.

“A few seconds of warning can make a difference in giving you time to drop, cover, and hold on before the shaking arrives,” (Google)

“All smartphones come with tiny accelerometers that can sense 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 our 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. We’re essentially racing the speed of light (which is roughly the speed at which signals from a phone travel) against the speed of an earthquake. And lucky for us, the speed of light is much faster! “ says Google.

These collected data will quickly update on google search as well. For anyone who search for earthquake updates on google search, with “earthquake” or “earthquake near me” terms, would get instant updates on where, when and the size of any earthquake nearby.

The California earthquake alert system has now started and in coming years Google plans to cover the whole globe. Hope this works and save lives!