Crowdsourcing for Early Earthquake Detection


“Scientists have found that just a few seconds of warning before an earthquake hits can make a big difference. People have time to get to a safer location, surgeries can be stopped and other protections can be implemented. While early warning systems exist, many areas prone to earthquakes don’t have them because the technology is still very expensive.” Source.


  • ShakeAlert is still in the R&D phase but holds the promise of the first earthquake early warning system which uses GPS and seismometers.
  • By downloading the ShakeAlert app, the GPS technology in most smartphones is sensitive enough to detect horizontal and vertical movement as small as one centimeter.
  • If several ShakeAlert apps identified the same horizontal and vertical movement within an area, it would likely be the first jolt of an earthquake and a warning could be sent to everyone’s phones to get to a safe area.
  • The greatest impact this technology would have is in parts of the world that wouldn’t afford to build cost-prohibitive high-technology seismometers which are so common in more developed countries.
  • The vast majority of the world does not have any kind of early warning systems for earthquakes, but what they do have in great numbers are smartphones.

The Technology Stakeholders

  • SkaleAlert App Developers
  • Cell Phone GPS Developers
  • Residents who live in earthquake-prone areas
  • Real estate owners in earthquake-prone areas

Process of Technology Implementation

  • Identify areas with the greatest need for early warning systems
  • Market the app to gain buy-in from the majority of the public
  • Update software and firmware to allow raw GPS data on smartphones
  • Deploy app, encourage downloading in identified areas
  • Replicate pilot in multiple locations worldwide
  • Share new technology and best practices

One thought on “Crowdsourcing for Early Earthquake Detection

  1. I was intrigued by the title of your post because natural hazards have been a passion of mine since delving into the subject matter for an undergraduate degree in geosciences and meteorology. Earthquakes occur along plate edges and along faults. Wouldn’t this type of warning system come far too late to be of much use to citizens? A two or three second warning cannot really be called “early earthquake detection.” I can see scientific merit to gathering ShakeAlert data from handheld devices to assess the scope and magnitude during and after a quake though. Response teams would definitely benefit from this information.


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