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App Maker Shaking Up Earthquake Warnings

A small number of people in California saw Thursday’s 5.3 magnitude earthquake coming.

They were among a group of beta testers of an app called QuakeAlert, that provided warnings several seconds ahead of the quake, potentially giving some users time to get to safe spots.

Hundreds of alerts went out, Josh Bashioum, of Early Warning Labs, which built the app told BuzzFeed News.

“Today was a huge success,” Bashioum said.

He told BuzzFeed that the company plans to roll the free app out more widely this summer.

Cell phone alerts are very common in disaster management, used widely to warn of all kinds of potential problems, but haven’t been widely used to warn of earthquakes, where prediction is more difficult than many weather phenomena.

The system is triggered by a network of 800 US Geological Survey ground sensors. The USGS is also working on its own cell phone warning system.

The warning itself has benefitted from a recent increase in federal funding. Congress set out just under $23 million for the warning system, the most its ever gotten, last month. That money will go to maintain and operate the current system and to add new ground sensors, BuzzFeed reported.

Thursday’s earthquake was centered off the Southern California coast, about 90 miles west of Los Angeles. It was one of the stronger earthquakes in recent years, but no major damage or injuries were reported. Some landslides did occur on Santa Cruz Island.

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