The deadly earthquakes that hit Central Mexico in the past month have been yet another test for Mexico’s advanced Earthquake warning system where people are alerted via app when a quake is coming. This warning system has been in place since the early 1990s, and with the evolving times, a complementary smartphone app was made and is now used by millions of Mexicans.
During the September 7th earthquake, an early-warning system called SASMEX (Seismic Alert System of Mexico) gave residents more than a minute’s warning of the nearing quake, saving many lives. SASMEX relies on 97 sensors installed in places along Mexico’s western coast with high seismic activity. These sensors measure the movement of the earth and are connected to a station through a mini processor. When an earthquake is detected through these devices, the app immediately is alerted, alerting everyone with the app. All while this is happening, a state-of-the-art alert system emits emergency messages to the capital every time major seismic activity occurs on the fault lines. The capital of Mexico then sends out warning sirens to sound throughout the towns to warn that a quake is coming.
The major downfall of SASMEX is that there are many areas without coverage and not apart of the system in general. SASMEX only sends alerts to people in Mexico City, Acapulco, Chilpancingo, Morelia, Puebla City, Oaxaca City, and Toluca. One of the poorer states without the SASMEX system, Chiapas, had a death toll of 16 people after the September 7th earthquake. This shows the inequality in Mexico and makes the country as a whole vulnerable to the upcoming earthquakes in the future. Another problem with this alert system is that it doesn’t give major information to residents. It is unknown to the people of Mexico how strong the earthquake is going to be and how long it will last.
While doing some research on these apps, I read up that California doesn’t have a warning system in place even with today’s technology. There has been a network of 400 early warning stations in research mode for years called “Shake Alert”, but it is only halfway built. The only thing this system is missing is the funding to make it available to all American citizens in the state of California.
Last year, Seismologist Richard Allen at the University of California at Berkeley decided that he wanted to develop a cheaper system that could work with Shake Alert. Allen’s idea formed around the idea that cell phones and thousands around the world could record shaking directly on smartphones. This system uses the tiny chips that record movement and vibrations. The system called “MyShake” has been 93% accurate with detecting earthquakes so far. When a phone running MyShake senses a seismic event, it sends the data to the lab at Berkeley for analysis. In the future, this app has the ability to turn that information that was sent to the lab out and issue an earthquake alert back to phones in less than a second, but for now the app is only collecting user shake data.
This ever-evolving software has the potential to help countries around the world were there’s currently no existing earthquake alert system and save many lives all on a device that most people have in their hands for the majority of the day.
Calamur, Krishnadev. “The Smartphone App That Tells You An Earthquake Is About to Hit.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 19 Sept. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2017/09/mexico-earthquake/540396/.
Brueck, Hilary. “MyShake App Uses Smartphones To Catch Earthquakes.” MyShake App Uses Smartphones To Catch Earthquakes | Fortune.com, Fortune, 12 Feb. 2016, fortune.com/2016/02/12/earthquake-warning-app-smartphone/.