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Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and Governor Gavin Newsom.

California Debuts Statewide Earthquake Early Warning System

ShakeAlert system will alert app users of imminent earthquakes magnitude 4.5 and above.

By Evan Symon, October 17, 2019 5:49 pm

Governor Gavin Newsom and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf helped unveil the statewide earthquake detection system ShakeAlert on Thursday.

Sensors around the state will detect where earthquakes begin and will notify users in the location of an earthquake. Users will be notified through the smartphone app MyShake, as well as alerts issued to all phones similar to the current Amber Alert system.

The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), who helped introduce the public about the system, said in a statement  “The system uses ground motion sensors from across the state to detect earthquakes before humans can feel them and will notify Californians so that they can ‘Drop, cover and hold on’ in advance of an earthquake.” 

The California ShakeAlert system. (ShakeAlert)

The ShakeAlert system has been under development by the University of California, Berkeley for several years and  can detect and send out warnings when an earth movement greater than magnitude 4.5, the level that most people will feel an earthquake. Los Angeles County has a similar system already in place, as does earthquake prone countries such as Japan and Mexico. SkyAlert, Mexico’s early warning program, has been notable since its debut last year for accurately predicting earthquakes over a minute before they occurred on surface level. 

Governor Newsom recognized the importance of the system, as well as local and international contributions during the kickoff announcement at Gateway Park in Oakland.

“Today, we are making a big leap forward in terms of focusing attention on prevention,” exclaimed Governor Newsom. “We’re announcing the nation’s first comprehensive early alert system for earthquakes. We’re announcing the ability for millions and millions of Californians to download an app, MyShake.

I say that knowingly, that Japan and Mexico have systems already in place in this space, but because of the extraordinary complementary work that has been done by UC Berkeley, by Caltech, by USGS (United States Geological Survey), and by our own Office of Emergency Service, we feel that we’re on the leading and cutting edge in terms of the ability to utilize that technology.”

The early warning system, while widely praised, has received some criticism for sending unsolicited messages to phones from government watchdog groups throughout the state. During the speech in Oakland a few protesters showed up to express about how the system is “government waste.” However, the vast majority of Californians have welcomed such a system, with both Democrat and Republican lawmakers in California sending out messages on social media in support of the new early warning system and the numerous lives it is estimated to save.

The system, the first such statewide earthquake early warning system in the United States, went live early Thursday. The app is currently available to download on smartphones everywhere. 

Evan Symon
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