In a surprising turn of events early Thursday morning, West Coast residents were startled awake by an unexpected test alert from the MyShake earthquake app. Sent at 3:19 a.m. due to a time zone mix-up, the app, designed to provide a few moments of warning before potentially dangerous shaking, mistakenly sent out a test alert seven hours ahead of schedule. The alert, labeled as “Critical” and simulating a magnitude 5 earthquake, was received by users in California, Oregon, and Washington, potentially reaching over a million people. Despite the disruption caused by the early alert, officials assure users that the error does not impact the app’s real-time alert system and serves as a reminder of the unpredictable nature of earthquakes.
This comprehensive article discusses the recent incident involving the MyShake earthquake alerts app, in which a test alert was mistakenly sent out several hours early, startling users on the West Coast. The article provides background information on the purpose of the MyShake app and the users who were affected by the early alert. It also delves into the details of the test alert, including the time zone mix-up, the number of users affected, and the scope of the alert. The article further explores the response and apology from the project scientist behind MyShake, as well as the subsequent test alert that was sent. It then segues into a discussion of the ShakeAlert system, its purpose, usage in California, Oregon, and Washington, and the government and private partnerships involved. The article also highlights the benefits of early warnings and system improvements. Additionally, it addresses the importance of earthquake preparedness, the number of people at risk in the United States, and the National earthquake drill – The Great ShakeOut. The article concludes by discussing past mistakes in emergency alert systems, such as the incident involving the Florida Division of Emergency Management and the false missile alert in Hawaii.
Earthquake App Test at 3:19 A.M.
On Thursday, a test alert for an earthquake was sent to users of the MyShake app at 3:19 a.m., startling many West Coast residents. This early alert was caused by a time zone mix-up, leading to the alarm sounding hours before it was intended.
Purpose of the MyShake app
MyShake is an early-warning app for earthquakes that aims to give people a few seconds’ warning before dangerous shaking occurs. The app was created to help individuals and communities prepare and respond to earthquakes more effectively.
Users affected by the early alert
The test alert sent at 3:19 a.m. was received by users of the MyShake app, which has been downloaded 1.4 million times. Although the app is primarily intended for users in California, Oregon, and Washington, it can also send alerts to other users across different regions.
The Test Alert
Time zone mix-up causes early alert
Due to a time zone mix-up, the test alert for a simulated magnitude 5 earthquake was sent out at 3:19 a.m. Pacific time instead of the intended 10:19 a.m. Pacific time. This mix-up caused users to be awakened by the sudden alert, leading to confusion and surprise.
Number of users affected
The exact number of users affected by the early alert is unknown. However, considering that the MyShake app has been downloaded 1.4 million times and that the alert could have reached over a million people, it can be presumed that a significant number of users were impacted.
Scope of the alert
The test alert was intended to be sent to users in California, Oregon, and Washington for a fictitious earthquake in San Francisco. However, due to the time zone mix-up, the alert was received by users outside of these regions as well. This broader reach highlighted the potential for wider dissemination of earthquake alerts through the app.
Recorded voice message
Some users who received the alert reported being awakened by a recorded voice message saying, “This is a test.” This recorded message was part of the alert system and was intended to inform users that the alert was not an actual earthquake but a test.
Developer of MyShake app
The MyShake app was developed by the University of California, Berkeley. It is part of the ShakeAlert system, which is managed by the U.S. Geological Survey and aims to detect earthquakes and provide early warnings to minimize harm.
Response and Apology
Effect on MyShake’s real-time alert system
The mistaken test alert sent at 3:19 a.m. did not affect MyShake’s real-time alert system. The system remained operational and continued to provide accurate earthquake notifications and warnings.
Accidental reminder of earthquake risks
The early test alert served as an accidental reminder of the constant risk of earthquakes. It emphasized that earthquakes can strike at any time and reinforced the importance of preparedness and awareness.
Apology from project scientist
Dr. Angie Lux, a project scientist for earthquake early warning at the Berkeley Seismology Lab, acknowledged the inconvenience caused by the early alert and issued an apology. She expressed regret for waking users up at an unexpected hour and assured them that steps would be taken to prevent such incidents in the future.
Subsequent test alert
Following the early test alert, another alert was sent at 10:19 a.m., as originally planned. This subsequent alert aimed to provide users with the intended test experience and reaffirm the functionality and effectiveness of the MyShake app’s real-time alert system.
The ShakeAlert System
Purpose of ShakeAlert
ShakeAlert is a system managed by the U.S. Geological Survey, designed to detect earthquakes and estimate areas that could experience strong shaking. The system’s purpose is to provide early warnings to the public, enabling individuals and organizations to take appropriate actions to protect themselves and minimize harm.
Usage in California, Oregon, and Washington
The ShakeAlert system is predominantly used in the states of California, Oregon, and Washington. These three states have a high risk of significant earthquake activity and experience strong ground shaking. By utilizing ShakeAlert, these states can provide timely warnings to their residents and mitigate the impact of earthquakes.
Government and private partnerships
ShakeAlert operates through partnerships between government organizations and private entities. The information collected by the ShakeAlert system can be disseminated to the public through various channels, such as televisions, telephones, and radios. Additionally, privately owned apps like MyShake collaborate with ShakeAlert to broadcast warnings to their users.
Benefits of early warnings
Early warnings provided by the ShakeAlert system offer several key benefits. They allow individuals to seek cover and protect themselves during an earthquake, while also giving organizations additional time to implement safety measures. For example, trains can be slowed down, schools and businesses can issue public announcements, and critical equipment can be secured.
The ShakeAlert system is continually being improved by the U.S. Geological Survey. Each event, including the test alert mix-up, serves as a valuable learning opportunity to enhance the system’s accuracy and effectiveness. The U.S. Geological Survey remains committed to refining the early-warning system and building upon the knowledge gained from these experiences.
Number of people at risk in the United States
Approximately 143 million people in the United States live in areas prone to earthquakes. These locations have the potential for shaking and associated damage. Due to the widespread risk, it is crucial for individuals and communities to be prepared and knowledgeable about earthquake safety measures.
National earthquake drill – The Great ShakeOut
To promote earthquake preparedness, a national earthquake drill called The Great ShakeOut is held annually. This drill encourages families, schools, businesses, and organizations to practice what to do during an earthquake. By participating in The Great ShakeOut, individuals can learn and implement essential safety procedures.
Importance of earthquake preparations
The early test alert incident serves as a reminder of the importance of earthquake preparations. Individuals and communities should take proactive steps to safeguard themselves and minimize the impact of earthquakes. These measures include securing furniture, creating emergency kits, identifying safe spaces, and educating oneself about earthquake response protocols.
Real-life earthquake opportunity in Northern California
Coincidentally, on the same day as the early test alert, an actual earthquake struck Sacramento County in Northern California. The ShakeAlert system was activated and provided an alert to residents. This real-life event served as an opportunity for individuals and organizations to put their earthquake preparations into action and evaluate their response.
Mistakes in Emergency Alerts
Past mistakes in emergency alert systems
The recent incident involving the MyShake app is not the first occurrence of mistakes in emergency alert systems. Various incidents in different parts of the world have highlighted the challenges of effectively disseminating emergency alerts without unintended consequences.
Florida Division of Emergency Management incident
In April, the Florida Division of Emergency Management encountered an incident where a screeching alarm was sent to mobile phones across the state during a test of the emergency alert system. This unintentional disturbance caused inconvenience and raised concerns about the reliability of emergency alert systems.
Hawaii false missile alert
In January 2018, the state of Hawaii experienced a false alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile. This false alert, initially perceived as a genuine threat, caused widespread panic and took approximately 38 minutes to be corrected. The incident underscored the need for robust protocols and measures to prevent false alarms in emergency alert systems.
The early test alert sent by the MyShake app due to a time zone mix-up disrupted the sleep of many West Coast residents and led to further discussions on the functionality and reliability of emergency alert systems. However, it also served as an accidental reminder of the constant threat of earthquakes and the significance of being prepared. The ShakeAlert system, despite the incident, continues to play a crucial role in providing early warnings and contributing to earthquake preparedness efforts. As advancements and improvements are made, it is important for individuals, communities, and emergency management agencies to work together in order to effectively respond to and mitigate the impacts of earthquakes.