Your Android phone as an earthquake detection device, will soon be ready for deployment. Google is expected to roll out this functionality worldwide in the coming months, after extended first stage rollout that has seen Earthquake Detection rolled out in some parts of the US last year and then in Greece and New Zealand earlier this year. More countries are expected to be added to this list soon, to add Android phones to a global network of detection devices. This uses accelerometers built into most Android smartphones to detect seismic waves that indicate an earthquake. If the phone detects such shaking or vibrations, it sends a signal to Google’s earthquake detection server, with a general location of the phone. The server then verifies this information with other Android phones in the region to check if they are reporting similar movements, to understand if an earthquake is happening.
At this time, the Android Earthquake Alert System is Live in the US, Greece, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Philippines, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. While there is no confirmation or a timeline for country-specific rollout, we expect Android phone users in India to get access in the coming months. Mind you, there is a way to opt out of this if you are in a region where the Android Earthquake Alert System is already Live or can do so when it becomes officially available. You need to head to Settings > Location > Advanced > Earthquake Alerts and turn this off. Google insists that the data being collected for the Android Earthquake Alerts System from Android phones will be collected anonymously. Only a general location pinpoint of the phone reporting the data is required and no personal data of users is collected at any point.
Google is creating a worldwide earthquake detection network, and every Android phone will eventually be a part of that. The system first rolled out for Android phones in California in the US last year, as part of the phased rollout and will use the sensors in Android phones to detect seismic activity and warn people in the region where the detection has happened. The accelerometers in smartphones can detect the initial P-wave that earthquakes generate, allowing advance warnings to be sent out, if detected in time. The P-wave is followed by the more powerful S-wave. On Android phones, the warnings will be sent out as a notification with visual cues on dropping down, taking cover and holding on to something as the earthquake happens.
The Android Earthquake Alerts System will be a one of its kind global network which will tap the millions of Android phones in use around the world for data. This is a three-stage implementation of the system. First, Google is partnering with the United States Geological Survey and the California Office of Emergency Services to send alerts to users in the state of California. This will be powered by the already active ShakeAlert system that also uses the ground installed seismometers across California. Similar tie-ups will be expected globally as the network rolls out further. Google had said at the time that over the next 12 months, more states in the US as well as more countries around the world will see the rollout of the Android Earthquake Alerts System. That is now well and truly happening.
Installing a ground network of seismometers would be a very costly activity, bordering on impossible, because of the sheer scale of the infrastructure installations that would be required. However, it is the scale of Google’s Android phone base which the company is tapping up, by making each of them work like mini seismometers to create the Android Earthquake Alerts System. Every smartphone has accelerometers that can detect movement, irrespective of intensity of direction. “If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to our earthquake detection server, along with a coarse location of where the shaking occurred. The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening,” says Marc Stogaitis, Principal Software Engineer, Android, at the time. This is when a warning will be sent out which may give people those critical few more seconds to drop for cover or find a safe place to tide it out.
This is where the second and third stages of the Android Earthquake Alerts System come into play. First, Google will show localized results in Google Search for earthquakes based on the data collected from Android phones—this will be an extended test period to see if the system works as expected, any variables that may come into play and a confirmation of sorts where you can double-check if it was actually an earthquake after you felt one. When Google is confident that the Android Earthquake Alerts System is accurate enough, it will actively send out warnings and alerts to users directly.