Long-awaited earthquake early warnings has come a long way since the last time a magnitude 5-plus quake shook SoCal.
Just ask Alissa Walker, who was at home in the middle of a video conference call at 12:29pm Wednesday when her iPhone started chirping, and a push notification appeared on the home screen with “Weak shaking in approximately 38 seconds.”
Sending out seismic waves faster than the speed of sound, the quake epicentered off the Ventura county coast had yet to reach Los Angeles, but its arrival was already anticipated by those with access to the data stream from California’s early warning system.
For now–but not much longer–that remains limited to a relatively small number of scientists, businesses, and civilians tabbed to try a mobile app, with online journalist Walker among them.
Not only did the app on her phone count down to the quake’s arrival in her neighborhood, it also provided a preliminary estimate of magnitude–off by only 0.1–and a map showing the epicenter.
“It would have given us all plenty of time to get under a table, under a desk, if we needed to,” said Walker. As it was, she used the time to send a tweet sharing the news.
Walker’s iphone has a beta version of the QuakeAlert app, developed by Santa Monica-based Early Warning Labs, which has been working in in collaboration with another private company, Esri, along with the US Geological Survey and university partners.
At this point, not anybody can download QuakeAlert. Writing an article on the app for Curbed last fall, Walker was provided a version to test.
She will soon have plenty of company.
Beginning this summer, Early Warning plans to make its QuakeAlert app available to the public at no charge, said founder Josh Bashioum.
The scope of the roll-out area remains to be determined, but definitely will include Los Angeles, Bashioum said.
Early Warning Labs has also developed other applications for emergency responders, industry, and multi-unit residential buildings.
He declined to say how many mobile app beta-testers got notification of Wednesday’s quake, but hopes by the end of the year, millions of Californians will have QuakeAlert on their mobile phones.