New app to provide Los Angeles residents crucial early earthquake warnings

By Mark Puleo, AccuWeather staff writer
January 04, 2019, 8:42:31 AM EST

Before the ground under their feet shakes, Los Angeles residents will get a vibration on their phones alerting them of an earthquake in their area. The newly developed app, called ShakeAlertLA, can give residents a vitally important few seconds of notice to prepare for earthquakes and aftershocks registering over 5.0 magnitude.

Released to the public this past weekend, the app works on Android and Apple smartphones. ShakeAlertLA alerts residents by sending alert sounds and notices to phones with a message about the severity of the ensuing shaking and a call to action to find cover.

"ShakeAlertLA alerts you that an earthquake has been detected and that you may soon feel shaking," the app says in its App Store description. "You can also use this app to prepare for an earthquake, get details on recent earthquakes, and find help after an earthquake. This app is brought to you by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City of Los Angeles, and built on the ShakeAlert system developed by the U.S. Geological Survey."

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The app is also available in Spanish and uses hundreds of seismometers along fault lines throughout the region to detect shaking. The focus on earthquake preparation has made numerous strides under Garcetti's watch since he took office in 2013.

"Angelenos know the next big earthquake is not a question of 'if' but 'when'," Garcetti said in October. "From retrofitting our most vulnerable buildings to delivering earthquake early warnings to Angelenos, we are committed to making Los Angeles an epicenter of seismic resilience and safety."

While the app is expected to improve with time and updates, residents and public services throughout the city are already excited to have a new layer of preparation. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has already tested and implemented the new technology.

After any detected earthquake, BART can halt trains for a short period of time or slow the trains down to 27 miles per hour until cleared. Robert Raburn, president of the BART board of directors, said that system was first used in 2014 after an earthquake in Napa. The alert system helps bring trains to a complete stop before the shaking ever begins, which will prevent any train from toppling off the track.

LA earthquake early warning

FILE - This Jan. 28, 2013 file photo, seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones, describes how an early warning system would provide advance warning of an earthquake, at a news conference at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

The development of the app has been in the works for six years. But after receiving the necessary funding, the Bay Area can now rely on early warnings from what is considered the most sophisticated earthquake alert system in the world.

The release of the app also seems to have galvanized other states to develop similar warning measures.

On Thursday, Garcetti announced the release of the app at the LA City Hall, where he thanked the app developers and hailed Los Angeles as the "epicenter of preparedness."

"It will never be perfect," he said at the press conference. "But this will give you a notification for the majority of earthquakes hitting the Southland."

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