Sci & Tech

Quake Warning App Developed for Smartphone

Quake Warning App  Developed for SmartphoneQuake Warning App  Developed for Smartphone

A new app developed in the United States and Germany functions like a seismometer and warns people of an impending earthquake via smartphone.

The app, dubbed MyShake, was developed by UC Berkeley in collaboration with Deutsche Telekom and uses accelerometers built into modern smartphones to sense an earthquake, Register reported.

"MyShake cannot replace traditional seismic networks, but it can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate in areas that have a traditional seismic network. It can provide life-saving early warning in countries that have no seismic network," said Richard Allen, the leader of the app project and director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory.

Such sensors are not as good as an in-ground seismograph–they can only sense earthquakes above magnitude five from up to 10 km away. That's not much use for the detecting smartphone, but it can pass the message on to other people faster than the earthquake can travel.

This was demonstrated in the 2011 earthquake in Virginia on the US East Coast. People getting a shake tweeted about it and as the shock waves spread, people further away started to get messages about the earthquake seconds before it actually rocked their world.

"Currently, we have a network of 400 seismic stations in California, one of the densest in the world," Allen said.

"Even if we get only a small fraction of the state's 16 million mobile phones participating in our program, that would be a many-orders-of-magnitude increase in the amount of data we can gather."

In tests, the app successfully detected seismic activity on shake tables used to simulate earthquakes in the lab using a specially developed identification algorithm. The phone then takes a time and GPS fix and fires a packet of data back to Berkeley's servers.

If at least four smartphones detect shaking within a 10-km radius of the epicenter, the program confirms an earthquake and sends out an alert. The data is also matched against a network of seismographic sensors already monitored by scientists.

"We want to make this a killer app, where you put it on your phone and allow us to use your accelerometer and we will deliver earthquake early warning," Allen said.

The app is currently available on Android from the official store. Iran's local Android store has not yet added the application but expects it to go viral in the coming months.

Earthquake detection in Iran is a developing service, as the central government has stepped up efforts to respond to the likelihood of a temblor around the country with first response stations situated in urban and rural centers.

The increase in guidelines for earthquake-proof buildings has also been a major requirement for large cities like Tehran and Tabriz, which are often hit by small quakes.

The worst earthquake in recent memory was the 2003 Bam earthquake that struck the Kerman province of southeastern Iran at 5:26 a.m. Iran Standard Time on December 26. The shock had a magnitude of 6.6 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of IX (Violent).

The earthquake was particularly destructive in Bam, with the death toll claiming 26,271 lives and injuring an additional 30,000. The effects of the earthquake were exacerbated by the use of mud-brick as the standard construction medium. Many of the area's structures did not comply with earthquake regulations set in 1989.

If localized into the Persian language, this application could add to the growing earthquake protection services in the country and help avoid situations like Bam again.