Early warning system to alert Californians before an earthquake is felt, system launches Thursday

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Your smartphone could soon be used as a seismometer. It will be able to detect earthquakes and alert you early enough to prepare.

The Earthquake Early Warning System launches Thursday morning, backed by Governor Gavin Newsom, UC Berkeley, the USGS, Senator Jerry Hill and others.

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Instant earthquake information- there's an app for that!

UC Berkeley's Seismology Lab developed the MyShake app, which uses ground motion sensors across the state to detect earthquakes before people feel them.

"Think about it, we have a warning for hurricanes, tornadoes, other situations like cold weather storms," San Jose's Office of Emergency Management director, Ray Riordan told ABC7 News. "Now we have a warning system for an earthquake."

Warnings would be produced by the ShakeAlert system, which is already being used in LA.

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A breakdown of how the "My Shake" app works.

Alerts would then be pushed out through the MyShake app and the same wireless notification system that issues Amber Alerts.

Once a warning goes out, Californians should get a few seconds to prepare.

The warning could come a few extra seconds, to tens of seconds in advance.

"A few seconds is a lot of time for people to get under a desk or table, secure themselves, duck, cover and hold on to that table so it doesn't move," Riordan said. "It'll give enough time to do some action."

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He said the early alert gives the public an opportunity to understand more about earthquake activity.

"Even in open spaces, you can still get yourself to the ground," he said. "Look around, because if you're out in the community, you might have poles with wires, you might have trees that are unstable. You have other things you need to look and be aware of and protect yourself."

ABC7 News spoke with San Jose residents about how they'd use the few seconds to prepare.

Mauricio Mejia spoke about his skepticism, saying California's earthquake activity is far too active.

"All of a sudden you get these false alerts, it'll be one of those 'cry wolfs,'" Mejia explained. "So, when there is a real alert, no one does anything."

According to the MyShake website, testing found most modern phones used today can record earthquakes down to a magnitude of 5; a moderate earthquake.

"I'd be very careful," Mejia explained. "I'd make sure that whatever they're creating there and that technology, that they make sure that there's some safeguards."

ABC7 News met two LA residents visiting the South Bay, who said the service has provided them with a sense of comfort.

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"Having the app on your phone makes you feel like you will get a warning, especially because we know it worked already," Steve Zlick told ABC7 News.

He continued with his understanding of the system benefits, "And if I had a warning, and I had kids or pets, or anyone I cared about, that would be good. I can get to them, we could get to whatever I consider the safest place in our immediate environment is."

According to the MyShake website, "Lessons learned from this test will enable us to expand earthquake early warnings to other countries around the world. This will happen when the number of users in an area is sufficient for MyShake to create accurate warnings and that a public education and training campaign has been developed to inform users how to respond to the warnings for their location."

The MyShake app is available now for download.
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