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Shake Alert uses new tech to make earthquake warnings more accurate

Here's how the Shake Alert earthquake notification system is being revamped
Here's how the Shake Alert earthquake notification system is being revamped 02:02

SACRAMENTO — New technology is being unveiled that can help give people more time to move to safety when a strong earthquake strikes.

The My Shake app can send out a Shake Alert before the strong shaking begins, and now, the data behind those warnings is getting a lot more accurate.

When an earthquake hits California, the app is designed to instantly send out a warning to give people up to several seconds to take cover before the strong seismic waves hit.

Robert de Groot with the U.S. Geological Survey said the Shake Alert system has been active since 2019.

"We know that this tool does work and it has a lot of potential for everyone in California," he said.

The Shake Alert system previously relied on a network of ground-based seismometers, but now, it's also using GPS sensors. Those can measure the strength of the quake from space-based satellites.

"Instead of measuring how fast the ground is moving, [which] is what the seismometers do, we are now measuring how far they moved up, down, sideways," de Groot said. "And what that translates into, potentially, is getting alerts to people faster."

De Groot said that the new data can more accurately determine the magnitude of larger earthquakes like the Loma Prieta quake that struck San Francisco in 1989.

"We need that extra information to give us a more accurate and potentially faster characterization of how big that earthquake is getting," he said.

The early warning also provides time to automatically stop trains, open doors at fire stations and shut down pipelines—actions that can help save lives.

"The farther you're away, the more warning time you'll get," de Groot said. "Even a couple seconds matters."

The Shake Alert system also covers Oregon and Washington State.

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