MyShake app can warn users before the next earthquake happens

In the event of a major earthquake, even seconds of warning can make a big difference when it comes to safety. When a magnitude 5.1 earthquake hit the Bay Area Tuesday morning, some residents got just that — up to an 18-second warning that the region was about to shake.

For those who have the MyShake app on their smartphone, an alert labeled “critical” appeared, warning users to “drop, cover, hold on” seconds before the shaking began.

As of Tuesday, 95,000 devices received the alert, said Richard Allen, director of UC Berkeley’s Seismology Lab, and new downloads of the app have skyrocketed since the quake. Allen didn’t have exact numbers to provide, but he said Tuesday that the app surpassed 2 million downloads, and according to the app store, there are more than 2.3 million downloads at release.

A person checks the MyShake app, which alerted 95,000 devices of an earthquake in the Bay Area on Tuesday.

A person checks the MyShake app, which alerted 95,000 devices of an earthquake in the Bay Area on Tuesday.

CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

Allen said Tuesday was a big test for the system, as the 5.1 magnitude earthquake caused minimal damage. “The early warning system for earthquakes is still new, and the number of warnings issued in the Bay Area has been relatively small,” he said. “This was a big thing and it worked well today. We’re all really happy.”

The earthquake struck at 11:42 a.m. with a depth of 4 miles, just south of Mount Hamilton in the hills about 12 miles east of downtown San Jose, according to the US Geological Survey. The further away from the epicenter a phone was, the more seconds of warning it received.

As of publication, there have been 7,199 experience reports submitted by MyShake users who were in the earthquake’s impact zone when it occurred. A total of 4,337 users reported “slight shaking,” while 1,326 users reported “moderate shaking” and 1,371 users reported no shaking at all. Users who report their experience are also asked to report nearby building and road damage.

The MyShake app debuted in 2019 and was developed by the Berkeley Seismology Lab. It “gathers motion data from your phone’s sensors and uses a patented neural network to determine if that motion fits the model of an earthquake” and is operated as a partnership between UC Berkeley, the USGS and the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.

SFGATE News Editor Amy Graff contributed to this story.

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