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Earthquake early warning app launched in Los Angeles

An app designed specifically to alert Los Angeles County residents in the event of an earthquake was unveiled in January by the jurisdiction’s mayor, Eric Garcetti.

The app, called ShakeAlertLA, is available for download in English and Spanish from the Apple Store and Google Play. It is also the first of its kind in the United States and, according to Garcetti, could save lives by giving county residents advance warning of possible seismic movements.

Earthquake warning

The application allows its users to receive an alert or warning with sound for earthquakes with a magnitude of 5.0 or more. This alert may occur a few seconds before the tremor begins.

This time frame may seem short: however, it is sufficient to gather people who are close by, or to take measures to protect oneself in a very short period of time.

The application

In short, the app relies on a large number of sensors that collect geological faults: when these sensors pick up an increased strength in seismic activity, app users receive notification on their smartphones.

This application was specially developed by the City of Los Angeles in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Annenberg Foundation and AT&T. Initially, it only works for Los Angeles, but it is made with open source technology. This feature allows other developers to use and adapt it.

The ShakeAlert project has been underway since 2006, but a number of budget cuts prevented it from being developed more quickly.

However, the design of early warning systems for seismic activity is a challenge for seismically vulnerable cities. The intention is to take advantage of the data transmission speed of smartphones for a useful purpose such as this.

San Andreas Fault

Los Angeles is partly under the influence of the San Andreas Fault. This fault runs for 1300 kilometers, crossing the state of California in the United States and Baja California in Mexico.

The San Andreas fault is infamous for causing devastating earthquakes. It belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire, an area with high seismic and volcanic activity.

On the other hand, the U.S. Geological Survey revealed in a 2017 report that the section closest to Los Angeles of the San Andreas fault has gone longer than expected without the generation of a large earthquake, so it is expected to occur within the next three decades.

A chilling fact revealed by the seismologists in the study is that there is a high probability that the next earthquake to occur in the area would have an estimated magnitude between 7.3 and 7.5.

Scholars have specified that the event could occur in an area bordering Ventura, Kern and Los Angeles counties. They also indicated that the last major earthquake in the area dates back to 1857.

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