The technology for detecting and alerting to earthquakes has been widely praised as a vital method to lessen the impact of such disasters, and mobile phones have become a critical participant in this arena. A strong example of this is Google’s Android Earthquake Alert System, a service designed to give users precious seconds to find safety before an earthquake strikes. Despite the commendable intention, the system’s implementation has faced challenges, as shown by the tragic February earthquakes in Turkey.
Google started rolling out its Android Earthquake Alert System worldwide in 2021. This system uses the sensors in Android smartphones to recognize seismic activities and then sends warnings to users. But during the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Turkey in February 2023, the system seemed to falter. It didn’t provide warnings for the initial quake, leaving the majority of Turkish Android users, who represent nearly 80% of the country’s smartphone market, without alerts.
A BBC investigation revealed that even though Google stated its alert went out to millions before the quake, most of the hundreds of people interviewed across three cities in the earthquake zone didn’t get a warning on their Android devices. The aftermath was devastating, with around 60,000 people dead, many from buildings collapsing.
In response to these concerns, Google has stood by the functionality of its alert system. According to the BBC (via 9to5Google), Micah Berman, the product lead on Android’s earthquake alerts, insisted that the system did send out the alerts, although there is a lack of evidence to back up these assertions. Google attributed the missed alerts to possible issues related to specific characteristics of the earthquake and problems with internet connectivity.
Yet, the incident has raised important concerns about the system’s dependability. Experts are now urging Google to provide more information on the operation of its earthquake alert system and the usefulness of the system in practical situations.