Earthquakes are arguably the most frightening of “weather” phenomena due to their sheer unpredictability. By the time scientists are able to detect an impending earthquake, it’s usually too little too late. Thanks to emerging and evolving technology, however, monitoring seismic activity to more accurately predict and warn against upcoming earthquakes is becoming more fruitful.
Researchers as the Seismological Laboratory at University of California Berkeley have developed a mobile app called MyShake which lets anyone with a smartphone upload and contribute seismic data and measurements recorded by their phones to an Internet of Things powered back-end platform and database. Once inside the IoT, seismologists can analyze and evaluate the seismological conditions of any given area in order to fairly accurately predict whether or not an earthquake is likely to occur in that particular region sometime in the near future.
As of now, the free MyShake app is only available for Android users, with an iPhone app currently in development. It’s able to record seismic data utilizing sensors within a smartphone and a sophisticated algorithm that can detect the shaking and movement of the Earth’s plates and differentiate those from other vibrations and movements a phone’s accelerometer may pick up.
Boasting a 93 percent accuracy rate when deciphering and detecting seismic activity, MyShake could be a crucial, life-saving weapon against the threat of earthquakes. “When [the app] detects an earthquake, it instantly sends an alert to a central processing site,” said Professor Richard Allen, one of the researchers who helped develop the MyShake app at UC Berkeley. “A network detection algorithm is activated by incoming data from multiple phones in the same area to declare an earthquake, identify its location and estimate its magnitude.
The hope is that by having an app that allows a network and community of people worldwide to contribute and submit data and measurements about seismic activity, scientists can spend less time gathering data and more time interpreting crowd sourced data to more accurately prognosticate the likelihood of earthquakes and provide ample prior warning. “Just a few seconds’ warning is all you need to ‘drop, take cover and hold on,’” Allen said. “Based on what social scientists have told us about past earthquakes, if everyone got under a sturdy table, the estimate is that we could reduce the number of injuries in a quake by 50 percent.”
Currently, the MyShake app only aggregates and transmits seismic data into the IoT for analysis and examination. Allen hopes that in the near future, the app will be able to send warnings to individual users should data point to an imminent earthquake in their area. While obviously this app doesn’t make sense for everyone to use, those in geographical areas where earthquakes are quite prominent might consider downloading MyShake on their phones as a precautionary measure. There’s no such thing as being too prepared when it comes to earthquakes.