TIME Natural Disasters

This App Helps Warn Users About a Coming Earthquake

The app is now available for Android phones

A new app is trying to take the surprise out of earthquakes by warning users when a tremor is approaching, researchers announced Friday.

Scientists from the University of California, Berkeley built an Android app named MyShake that analyzes information from accelerometers in smart phones to determine whether motion that’s detected is an earthquake. If so, the app sends a warning to other users in the network that may feel the earthquake next. The app can detect earthquakes of magnitude 5 or greater within 6.2 miles (10 km).

Researchers, writing in the journal Science Advances, say that the app and the network it creates could be the first step in the creation of an early warning system that could save lives wherever large percentages of the population own smartphones, including places that cannot afford to implement advanced warning technologies. “MyShake cannot replace traditional seismic networks,” said project leader Richard Allen, director of the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory. “But we think MyShake can make earthquake early warning faster and more accurate.”

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