In a first for the state, Gov. Gavin Newsom has unveiled an earthquake early alert app in California as a way for people across the state to receive early warnings.
Created by UC Berkeley, the MyShake app is the first statewide quake early alert app for California. The ShakeAlerts app launched in January, different from the new statewide alert app, was limited to Los Angeles County and only alerted those with the app who were physically present in L.A.
The threshold for notifications, however, remains the same as the previous app, at intensity level three on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale, or earthquakes of magnitude 4.5 or greater. This intensity of shaking is “felt quite noticeably by persons indoors” and can be described as “vibrations similar to the passing of a truck,” but many people do not recognize it as an earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website.
In addition to the new early alert app, authorities will also issue early warnings through the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, which sends text message alerts even to those who have not downloaded the app. The text alerts will notify people in places where intensity level 4 shaking is expected, a higher threshold of notification than the MyShake app.
“[The app] should be helpful. If we have a big earthquake and get a warning, it’ll cut the deaths and costs,” said John Vidale, a USC professor of seismology. Vidale also said the app still has a few problems, particularly the delayed warnings and false alerts.
The early alert system could make a difference with even a few seconds’ warning especially in the oil and gas industry and in the hospitals. For 1989’s Loma Prieta quake, people in San Francisco’s Marina District, who witnessed multiple deaths due to quake-related destruction, could have been alerted under the current system about 20 seconds in advance, according to the Los Angeles Times.
However, Jack Onufer, a USC student majoring in aerospace engineering, said that the delayed warning would not be helpful and that it will be “almost the same amount of reaction time.” “The amount of time they give you is almost not enough,” Onufer said.
“It definitely would help being more alert, but there’s also probably other resources [...] that have more developed technology and that could confirm that an earthquake is happening,” said Shakthi Srinivasan, a USC student majoring in biomedical engineering.
As the MyShake app provides educational materials for safety procedures to take in case of an earthquake, USC also has resources regarding earthquake safety procedures on its Fire Safety & Emergency Planning website. The school was a participant in the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill on Thursday, and it was the largest disaster drill in US history, according to the website.