MyShake app can alert users before next earthquake happens

In the case of a large earthquake, even seconds of warning could make a big difference when it comes to safety. When a 5.1 magnitude earthquake hit the Bay Area on Tuesday morning, some residents got just that — up to an 18-second warning that the region was about to get shaky.

For those who have the MyShake app on their smartphone, an alert popped up marked “critical,” warning users to “drop, cover, hold on” seconds before the shaking began.

On Tuesday, 95,000 devices got the alert, said Richard Allen, director of UC Berkeley’s Seismology Lab, and new downloads of the app have been skyrocketing since the quake. Allen didn’t have exact numbers he could provide, but he said Tuesday the app surpassed 2 million downloads and according to the app store, there are more than 2.3 million downloads as of publishing.

A person checks the MyShake app, which alerted 95,000 devices of an earthquake in the Bay Area on Tuesday.

CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

Allen said Tuesday was a great test for the system, as the 5.1 magnitude quake inflicted minimal damage. “The earthquake early warning system is still new, and the number of alerts issued in the Bay Area have been relatively small,” he said. “This was a big deal, and it worked great today. We are all really pleased.”

The quake hit at 11:42 am with a depth of 4 miles, just south of Mount Hamilton in the hills about 12 miles east of downtown San Jose, according to the US Geological Survey. The farther away from the epicenter a phone was, the more seconds of warning it received.

As of publishing, there have been 7,199 experience reports submitted by MyShake users who were in the impact zone of the earthquake when it occurred. A total of 4,337 users reported “light shaking,” while 1,326 users reported “moderate shaking” and 1,371 users reported no shaking at all. Users who report their experience are also asked to report on building damage and road damage nearby.

The MyShake app debuted in 2019 and was developed by the Berkeley Seismology Lab. It “collects motion data from your phone’s sensors and uses a patented neural network to determine whether that motion fits the model of an earthquake” and is operated as a partnership between UC Berkeley, USGS and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

SFGATE news editor Amy Graff contributed to this story.

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