The Googlers and researchers each brought unique skills to address the challenges of earthquake detection and early warnings. The academic team had spent decades researching the physics of earthquakes and what makes early warnings effective, while the Googlers had engineering expertise and a platform that could gather data and get information to huge numbers of people quickly.
Android accelerometers collect millions of unique data points that underground seismometers can’t, like how shaking on the 40th floor of a building differs from shaking on the first floor or from driving in a car. By analyzing these data points, the team could develop timely, accurate early warnings and follow-up messages.
As the team developed a system based on data from phones, they also initiated early warnings to people in California, Oregon and Washington using U.S. Geological Survey ShakeAlert ground seismometer data. Early warnings became accessible to all Android users in these states, and because they didn’t have to sign up for the service, significantly more people received them.