LOS ANGELES (CN) – A smartphone app launched Thursday by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is the first publicly available app in the nation that can alert residents if a major earthquake has struck, potentially granting precious seconds for people to evacuate and prepare.
The free app, called ShakeAlertLA, works in tandem with the United States Geological Survey’s earthquake early warning system.
The app can be downloaded on a smartphone under any carrier plan, although the early warning system works only for individuals who live in or are working in Los Angeles County when an earthquake strikes.
If an earthquake of 5.0 magnitude or greater strikes, the alert system sends a push notification, not a text message, to your phone.
Garcetti praised the app Thursday at a City Hall press event as a critical, life-saving tool in the city’s larger emergency-response plans.
“This is really about precious seconds,” Garcetti said. “We believe it will make Angelinos safer.”
But Garcetti urged residents to use the app in conjunction with analog disaster-preparedness plans, such storing food and water. He stressed that the app, which can send alerts either in English or Spanish, does not have a countdown feature to tell you when shockwaves will reach you.
When launched, the app can tell users within an average of 1.8 seconds, based on their location, how close they are to an earthquake’s epicenter, said Garcetti. But the app won’t track your location or store any data on a user’s activity.
Users will get alerts even if the towers for their phone carriers are down.
The app stresses that users should create a plan before shaking occurs.
“This is not a prediction service,” an app notification says. “It signals that an earthquake has started and you may feel shaking. Use common sense to stay safe.”
The alerts are meant to give law enforcement, transit operators and others enough time to exit elevators, stop trains before they enter tunnels and stop cars on overpasses before shockwaves reach them, according to the app’s website.
Users of the app can open a guide on finding a shelter and locate other disaster-relief resources. Users can also sign up to volunteer at disaster-aid organizations around the county.
Residents are encouraged to sign up for free emergency text messages from the city by texting “Ready” to 888-777.
Garcetti said the code that built the app is available for public download and appropriation by anyone in the world.
“We insisted this be open source so anyone can save lives with it,” Garcetti said, adding that he hopes residents in neighboring counties will push officials there to launch similar apps.
The app was developed by AT&T programmers and paid for by a $260,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation, along with an unspecified amount from the Mayor’s Office.
Officials from the U.S. Geological Survey, who were not in attendance Thursday due to the federal government shutdown, also helped develop the app.