Smartphones could help protect people from earthquakes

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Your Smartphone Could Help Detect Earthquakes

US Geological Survey released the results of a study Friday that found the sensors in smartphones and other similar devices could be used to detect early ground movement to warn people about a potential earthquake.

While the sensors in your iPhone or Android device aren't anywhere near as accurate as the advanced early warning systems the USGS relies on, the system could be used in poorer areas that lack the funding for the high tech detection approach.

The ShakeAlert system is one of the scientific-grade warning systems that will soon be used on the west coast -- but it costs roughly $145 million dollars.

"The U.S. earthquake early warning system is being built on our high-quality scientific earthquake networks," the USGS Coordinator for that system said. "But crowdsourced approaches can augment our system and have real potential to make warnings possible in places that don't have high-quality networks."

By using smart phones, data can be easily gathered from pretty much anywhere on the planet. A map created by NASA and Pacifico shows how researchers can use shared GPS data from multiple cell phones in the same area to detect changes in the the displacement of the ground.

The sensors may only be useful for catching the most dangerous and damaging quakes -- about magnitude 7 or larger. For context, the earthquake that hit the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 was a 6.9 magnitude, in 1994 an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7 devastated Los Angeles, and in February of this year a 6.7 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Japan.

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6.0 earthquake Northern California - August 24, 2014
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Smartphones could help protect people from earthquakes
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NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: A man surveys a destroyed building following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
I just escaped the #Napa #earthquake. Everything fell around me and not on me. http://t.co/TF4uhxhfmA
Earthquake at @SilverOak http://t.co/uSfHX2WzBk
1st pics of #earthquake damage in Napa MT @acr What that looked/felt like for in laws in Napa. #earthquake http://t.co/PDoWfwHssx
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NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: A building is seen destroyed following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3 am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: People wearing bathrobes walk down a street following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3 am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: A building is seen destroyed following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3 am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: A journalist documents a destroyed building following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3 am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: A reporter surveys the scene of a building collapse following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3:00 am on Sunday morning causing damage to buildings and sending at least 70 people to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: Glass from a business litters the ground following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: Glass from a business litters the ground following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: People survey a destroyed building following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: A man takes a picture of a destroyed building following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3am on Sunday morning. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: Workers clean up piles of bottles that were thrown from the shelves at Van's Liquors following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3:00 am on Sunday morning causing damage to buildings and sending at least 70 people to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: People survey a damaged car following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3:00 am on Sunday morning causing damage to buildings and sending at least 70 people to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: Police officers prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged buillding following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3:00 am on Sunday morning causing damage to buildings and sending at least 70 people to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
NAPA, CA - AUGUST 24: A section of the Napa County Court house is seen damaged following a reported 6.0 earthquake on August 24, 2014 in Napa, California. A 6.0 earthquake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area shortly after 3:00 am on Sunday morning causing damage to buildings and sending at least 70 people to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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