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MyShake app sends out earthquake alert test overnight by mistake

A number of people in the Bay Area and across California got a rude awakening overnight by a premature earthquake alert test from their MyShake app.

The app from the University of California, Berkeley is an earthquake early warning system in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey ShakeAlert system and the California Office of Emergency Services. Users in California, Oregon and Washington with the smartphone app receive alerts when there is a significant earthquake, providing a few seconds of warning when strong shaking is imminent.

Overnight, MyShake users received a test alert accompanied by a loud sound and verbal announcement saying the alert was a test. The actual test alert was scheduled for 10:19 a.m. PT Thursday (10/19) for International ShakeOut Day, where people across the globe participate in earthquake drills, with many scheduled for 10:19 a.m. local times. In California, the event is called The Great California ShakeOut.

Instead, the test alert went out at 10:19 UTC, or 3:19 a.m. PT. UTC is the abbreviation for coordinated universal time, an international time standard kept using highly precise atomic clocks combined with the Earth's rotation.

The USGS ShakeAlert account on the X social media platform (formerly known as Twitter) recognized the mixup from their MyShake partner, saying "We acknowledge that no one wants to get a test message this early and we are working with our #ShakeAlert techical [sic] partner to determine what happened."

A subsequent post from USGS ShakeAlert said, "There was likely a mixup between time zones set in the test alert system." 

At 9:35 a.m., the @MyShakeApp account on X posted an apology on the snafu, blaming it on a "configuration glitch" and said next year's ShakeOut drill would not repeat the error.

Other X users made light of the early morning jolt from their smartphones. Many others, however, did not see the humor in the situation.

CBS News Bay Area spoke to two soon-to-be Bay Area residents, who said they were waiting for the alert, but never got it.

"We did not get the 3 a.m. But we also did not get the scheduled one that we knew was scheduled to test the whole area at 10:19, 10:20. We didn't get that either," said Elizabeth, who did not give her last name.

Only those who had the MyShake app downloaded received the early morning alert. For now, when it comes to the app Elizabeth is indifferent for now.

 "Maybe wait till they figure things out a little better, because I really don't want to deal with false anxiety," she said.

The erroneous test alert comes the day after another alert for an actual earthquake was sent out to users in Northern California after a 4.2 earthquake struck in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta area. The initial estimate from the alert pegged it at 5.7 magnitude, but as more data came in from a network of seismometers, the quake's magnitude was downgraded to 4.2. 

It was centered about seven miles from Bethel Island near the town of Rio Vista on the eastern end of Solano County. There was no damage or injuries reported in the quake.

A UC Berkeley scientist who has worked on the shake alert system with the USGS told CBS News Bay Area that despite the magnitude being way off the mark, the alert worked just as designed to give people as much time as possible before heavy shaking hits their area.

According to Dr. Angie Lux, the speed in getting the alert put may also mean the accuracy of determining the magnitude is compromised.

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