ShakeAlert – Earthquake Early Warning System

ShakeAlert - Earthquake Early Warning System

ShakeAlert is an earthquake early warning system that is being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with researchers at the University of California, Berkley. This app will be used to provide early warning of up to 80 seconds before the earthquake strikes on the west coast.

Unlike other disasters like hurricanes where you get ample warning before it strikes, earthquakes often strike without warning and can cause tremendous damage to cities like those mentioned in my 5 Deadly Earthquakes post. Every second is vital so even if we can get 80 seconds of warning that gives us enough time to seek cover and get away from hazardous things like windows where shards of glass may come flying at you.


How ShakeAlert Works

Earthquake Warning App

Earthquakes send out primary waves (P-Waves) which travel faster than the more intense and dangerous secondary waves (P-Waves). Because of this characteristic, a network of seismographs can quickly identify where the earthquake is and its intensity. If it is intense enough, ShakeAlert will send an alert to users and allow them to seek shelter.before the quake hits.

ShakeAlert App

Currently it’s being tested with a select few users and once they officially launch they hope to partner with private firms and social media companies so their system can be integrated to third party apps and websites. You can see how useful this would be and wondered why it hasn’t been used before.

Believe it or not, the technology already exists in some countries like Japan and Mexico. They experience earthquakes on a regular basis so they’ve already implemented early warning systems that are much more advanced than those in the US.


Japan’s Early Warning System

In fact, Japan’s early warning system detects earthquakes up to 90 seconds before they strike and displays alerts on TV’s and sends text messages to smartphones. Back in 2011 when the devastating 9.0 earthquake hit Japan and created a massive tsunami, residents had 80 seconds of early warning before the earthquake struck That gave residents enough time to find shelter and turn off gas lines to minimize hazards.

Mexico’s Early Warning System

Mexico has had an earthquake early warning system in place for awhile now and they launched their SkyAlert app that sends warnings to smartphones before the earthquake strikes. The app has well over three million users already and is something the US is trying to adopt with their own ShakeAlert app.

The above video shows just how early the early warning systems go off to give time for people to take cover. This news anchor, however, didn’t take cover immediately as he continued telling the news but can be seen as confused as to what he should actually do. Continue with the news or take cover. You should definitely take cover to keep yourself safe and injury free.


The Price of Protection

This is all great but did you ever wonder about how much it would cost to implement? I mean you’d need a lot of infrastructure in place to cover such a vast area. In fact, it’s estimated that operating such a system across western US would cost about $16 million a year in operating costs alone. This doesn’t include to cost of adding new detection sites that would be needed to expand the current coverage.This number may seem like a lot but if you compare it to the millions of dollars of damage and lives lost during major earthquakes, it’s a small price to pay.

It’s obvious that we need a system like this in place but the question isn’t only about raising the money but as they move forward, who will pay the bill? MyShake intends on using smartphones as mini seismographs similarly to the MyShake app.

Jennifer Strauss, from UC Berkeley Seismology Lab states:

“MyShake is a great opportunity to harness the availability of accelerometers in every cellphone to build a global network that can bring earthquake science into the next century.”

Technology is indeed advancing and we should definitely take advantage of what’s available to us. ShakeAlert is currently in the testing phase but if all goes well it should be available for download in the near future.

Although apps can help us, it is still very important for us to be prepared and know what to do during an earthquake. There are steps we can do right now to minimize the impact of earthquakes and there are things we should do during an earthquake to minimize injury. Learn more below.

Preparedness – What to do BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER an Earthquake



  1. Yasmin

    Wow I love your site. Its refreshing to see a site dedicated to helping save lives. Your posts are very informative and the advice invaluable. Excellent stuff, keep up the great work :)

    1. Andy (Post author)

      Thank you so much Yasmin! Technology is advancing and hopefully it’ll help us detect earthquakes sooner to give us more time to take cover and shut off gas valves to prevent any additional hazards.
      Preparedness is still key though and we must ensure we know what to do during an earthquake.

  2. Roger



    Unbelievably fantastic!

    First of all, I had no idea Japan and Mexico already had early earthquake warning systems. So we do know they work!

    When you mentioned a warning of 80 seconds, my first though was that was only good for saying goodby! But as I read on, you explained it’s time for you to find cover, get away from hazards, and turn off the gas.

    And of course ANY warning would be welcome.

    To think this could all be included into a phone app is simply fantastic. I’m glad scientists are continuing this research, and hope they can improve the warning times to even greater amounts!

    Thanks for the amazing information.


    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yeah it really is fantastic. If they implemented it earlier it would have kept more people safe but better late than never. At least they get to learn from what other countries are doing and hopefully even improve upon those techniques. Can’t wait till the app comes out.

  3. Yvonne

    It’s great that technology is advanced to the point that we are able to get warning alerts on our mobile phones for earthquakes. Every second is precious once we get an alert like that.

    It helps to be prepared in the event of an earthquake so any warning will be very much welcomed.


    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yeah, I love how people are using technology for good and helping others be more safe. This can potentially save a lot of lives and is definitely needed in high risk earthquake areas.
      With so many major earthquakes that hit without notice, even a few seconds can make a difference. Hopefully technology will advance even more and give us even earlier warnings.


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