Google likely realizes that, during a natural disaster such as an earthquake, every second matters, because it is announcing a new initiative designed to give you an early warning about earthquakes while also turning your phone into a handheld seismometer that'll be part of a network of earthquake-detecting Android devices.
Google said it kick-started this effort by collaborating with the US Geological Survey and California Governor's Office of Emergency Services on an earthquake alert system - powered by ShakeAlert and developed by the nation’s leading seismologists - for Android devices in California. Initially, the 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.
Eventually, the system will rely on Android phones to provide early warning notifications to people in danger around the globe.
Google's Android Earthquake Alerts System
Since it's costly to install a global seismometer network, Google came up with the Android Earthquake Alerts System. Android users will be able to opt-in to turn their phone into a mini seismometer and join the world’s largest earthquake detection network. It's like a COVID-19 tracing system, but for earthquakes instead of people diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. In fact, Google will use your phone’s accelerometer to detect movement.
“They’re even sensitive enough to detect the P-wave, which is the first wave that comes out of an earthquake and is typically much less damaging than the S-wave which comes afterward," Google explained. When your device senses movement, it’ll notify Google’s earthquake detection server with location information, and then the server will crowd-source data from nearby devices that have opted-in to determine if an earthquake is actually happening in your area.
Keep in mind UC Berkeley created a similar earthquake detection app, called MyShake, in 2016. But Google's approach will be more widespread.
Search 'earthquake' on Google to see results
For now, you will need to search for “earthquake” or “earthquake near me” to see if Android phones around you are reporting activity. Google said your search results should also include tips from “helpful, credible resources”. Notification alerts for earthquakes are rolling out in California first - since a reliable seismometer-based system is in place there - but they will roll out to more states and regions using Google's Android-based detection system over the coming year.
Want to know more?
Check out Google's blog post for more details.