Google Pixel 4a and Pixel 3aSource: Alex Dobie / Android Central

What you need to know

  • Google has announced the world's largest earthquake alert system, powered by Android smartphones.
  • It has partnered with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to start sending earthquake alerts to all Android phones in the state.
  • Whenever the accelerometer on your phone detects signals that suggest an earthquake might be imminent, it will send a signal to Google's earthquake detection server.

Google today announced that it is utilizing the massive reach of its Android platform to build the world's largest earthquake detection network. The system, which will use Android phones as mini seismometers, will be rolled out in stages. Google is starting with earthquake alerts in California, which has a reliable seismometer-based system to detect earthquakes.

Marc Stogaitis, Price Software Engineer, Android, wrote in a blog post:

Earthquakes happen daily around the world, with hundreds of millions of people living in earthquake prone regions. An early warning can help people prepare for shaking, but the public infrastructure to detect and alert everyone about an earthquake is costly to build and deploy. We saw an opportunity to use Android to provide people with timely, helpful earthquake information when they search, as well as a few seconds warning to get themselves and their loved ones to safety if needed.

The search giant has joined hands with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to start sending earthquake alerts to Android users in the state, using the existing ShakeAlert system. The system uses signals from over 700 traditional seismometers.

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Over the coming year, Google expects to start sending earthquake alerts in more states across the United States and several countries around the world using Android's phone-based detection system. Since every smartphone is equipped with an accelerometer, they are capable of sensing signals that might indicate an earthquake may be imminent.

When a phone detects an earthquake, it will send a signal to Google's earthquake detection server, along with a rough location of where the shaking happened. Google can then combine the data from several phones to determine the epicenter of the earthquake. Google also hopes to soon use the technology to share more accurate earthquake data in Google Search when users look up "earthquake" or "earthquake near me."

Since the earthquake detection system will be rolled out through Google Mobile Services, a full OS update will not be required. It also means that Android phones in China and Huawei phones that lack Google Mobile Services will not be part of Google's earthquake detection system.

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