One of the pioneering companies that promoted the West Coast’s earthquake early warning system has retired its QuakeAlertUSA app, leaving one fewer option for those looking for a heads-up on their smart phone that they should duck and cover.
Early Warning Labs of Santa Monica notified customers by email this week that it decommissioned the QuakeAlertUSA app Nov. 6.
Joshua Bashioum, Early Warning Labs’ founder and chief executive, said Tuesday that discontinuing the app allows the company to focus on its core commercial, automated earthquake response services.
But other options remain, said Robert de Groot, a scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey Earthquake Science Center in Pasadena who serves as coordinator for the USGS’ ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System that’s being rolled out in California, Oregon and Washington.
The MyShake app developed by UC Berkeley and sponsored by the Office of Emergency Services remains available for free in the Apple iTunes and Google Play store and is currently operating in California, Oregon, and Washington. You have to download the app and can adjust its sensitivity to the minimum magnitude you wish to be alerted to.
Google also provides an earthquake alert integrated into the Android Operating System for Android system cell phones. In San Diego, a San Diego County Emergency app called ShakeReadySD delivers alerts to phones in California.
Those apps are all connected to the USGS’ ShakeAlert system, which also sends messages through public and private sources over the internet, radio, television and cellular networks. For stronger quakes, the Wireless Emergency Alerts come directly to your phone — no app necessary — like an AMBER Alert delivered by FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.
The ShakeAlert earthquake early warning system has been in development more than a decade, and cell phone warning delivery underwent trials in 2019. The system got real-world tests last year in moderate quakes, including a magnitude 4.4 near Santa Rosa in September 2022, a magnitude 5.1 east of San Jose in October 2022 and a magnitude 6.4 along the Northern California coast in December 2022.
After the December quake, the California Office of Emergency Services director said the Shake Alert system was able to actually push out alerts 10 seconds in advance of the earthquake shaking to some 3 million people in Northern California.
Several countries, including Japan, Mexico, China and Turkey, have long had such earthquake warning systems in place. The U.S. system is more than 80% complete. It is planned to have 1,115 California sensors and quicker transmission times, with additional sensors in Oregon and Washington and a goal of giving residents critical seconds of warning before an earthquake strikes.
The ShakeAlert system detects an earthquake’s initial waves of ground motion, which travel quickly and are weaker than the more damaging second set of waves. Processing centers in Seattle, Menlo Park and Pasadena analyze the data to identify the epicenter and strength of the earthquake and publish a ShakeAlert message, which then goes to various government and private partners to be sent as alerts.
De Groot said that new systems under development include alerts that would be sent over radio airwaves to dedicated boxes, which could send critical warnings if cell phone towers are down and interrupt delivery of phone alerts. Other ideas include combining multiple alert systems.
“We subscribe to the idea that it’s better to get more than one alert than none at all,” de Groot said. “Having a little bit of redundancy built in is good to have. It’s good emergency planning.”