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SMS Earthquake Alert; Letting You Know There's Only Seconds to Live by Cellphone

This image was lost some time after publication.
This image was lost some time after publication.

Having lived in San Francisco for the last four years I thought that by now I would have gotten my first decent earthquake out of the way. But alas, I am still an earthquake virgin. So I walk around with the question looming in my head, "When will it hit & then what the hell do I do?"


Luckily enough, the San Francisco City Government has my back. It just implemented a new system where people can sign up their cell phone numbers and will be notified in the event that an earthquake, tsunami, or Mutant Robot Attack hits the Bay area. In addition to alerting you of the impending natural/unnatural disaster, the SMS service also will instruct people on what to do afterwards.

You can sign up here:

San Francisco gets SMS earthquake alert system []

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This is a great idea.

However, according to conversations we've had with USGS, at most they can get 15 seconds warning and that's assuming the epicenter is quite far away. Add a few secs for alertsf's system to get the alert and a few more for the sms to get to you. By the time you get the sms, checking a txt message is probably going to be the last thing on your mind - and you'll probably drop your phone since the ground will be shaking.

USGS would love to put a network of hundreds/thousands of sensors in people's garages around California. Hook them via wireless to the house's wifi network and then let them start sending info as soon as they detect motion (real motion - not you driving your Hummer into the garage). Get a bunch of those messages from one locale and they'd know where something was happening/starting. Automate the whole system and then you can tie it into really useful stuff. You still may only get a 5-10 second warning, but that would be really helpful for things like: stop the elevators in every big building at the next floor and open the doors; stop BART/Caltrain/Cargo trains and don't let any enter the trans-bay tunnel; shut down any crazy nuclear stuff that we don't know about out in Livermore; delay delicate surgeries and fire up the backup generators at hospitals; open all the firehouse doors, stop traffic from leaving the Bay Bridge Tollbooth, etc.

The trouble is it would take a very large network of these devices in people's homes, business or wherever to make it foolproof and effective. I doubt it would be hard to find people to volunteer to host the sensor in their garage and agree to let its minimal traffic traverse their network. USGS certainly doesn't have the $$ for it. DHS might. If such a network were deployed, then maybe we'd get our sms alerts in time to get out of the house - or at least out from under the car if we're changing the oil.