For those of us who live in earthquake country, the ability to provide early warning has always been a priority. The California Integrated Seismic Network (CISN) was established in 2000 with this goal in mind and is working to cover the entire state with a system of interlinked seismic and geodetic stations. The US Geological Survey envisions eventually including low cost sensors in homes, businesses, and schools, all with the goal of gathering timely data and issuing emergency warnings.
But what if this goal could be furthered in way that provided millions of sensors at little cost? As they say, “There’s an app for that.”
Scientists at UC Berkeley have just released an application for Android phones called MyShake that uses crowd sourcing to gather information about earthquakes. The application runs in the background, using very little power, in a way similar to popular exercise applications. It uses a profile-recognition system that allows it to distinguish between normal activity and an earthquake, so data is only shared if the event matches the profile. When an earthquake occurs, the application detects it using the accelerometer in the smart phone and transmits the data and location anonymously to a cloud server. Within the cloud server, the data is aggregated with data from other devices and used to determine the magnitude of the seismic event.
While the application is currently only a data-capturing tool, the Berkeley team believes that application can be refined to send out alerts seconds or minutes ahead of dangerous shaking. The application is intended to supplement, not replace, the work being done by CISN but offers the advantage of much faster processing and notification. It would prove particularly beneficial in locations that do not have the sophisticated seismic network that California has. The application has been tested with a small number of users and has performed well and researchers are now seeking to expand the number of users. You can get more information and download the app at http://myshake.berkeley.edu/.