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USGS explains why earthquake emergency notifications were delayed in some areas

Posted at 5:52 PM, Jun 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-25 18:26:21-04

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Many people felt the 5.8 magnitude earthquake, but did you get the earthquake notification? There are many questions surrounding the timing of when that alert came out.

23ABC'S Tori Cooper spoke with officials from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) about why the emergency alert notification didn't hit phones until after the quake.

USGS officials said the MyShake prototype app and emergency alerts for phones are designed to be an early warning system that notifies cell phone users when ground shaking from a nearby earthquake will reach them, in hopes of allowing them enough time to duck and cover before the quake strikes.

However, it wasn't until approximately four minutes after the 5.8 magnitude quake that many people in Bakersfield received this emergency alert notification on their phone even without the shake app. Experts said the time of the notification all depends on how close you are to the epicenter.

Dr. Lucy Jones said essentially this system is just intended to tell you that an earthquake has already begun. The goal is to get the emergency alert to nearby users before they feel any waves from the quake that are possibly nearby but that doesn't always happen.

"The waves are traveling out from the earthquake, the system calculates as fast as it can and sends out the alert. If you’re really nearby the waves got to you before the alert did and if you’re further away and the waves are taking longer to get there but you get the alert as the same time as the system. People in LA got the alert at the same time as Bakersfield but you got the waves because you are closer,” Dr. Jones said.

The early warning system will reach people in two ways: through an app called MyShake and through the existing wireless emergency alerts that sound alarms on cellphones similar to the way you receive flood warnings and alerts for missing children (amber alerts). If all goes well, it will give people up to "tens of seconds" of advance notice before they might feel the ground shaking.

Officials were not able to explain the main difference between the app notification and the emergency alert that was sent out. However, according to MyShake you must have location services enabled to get the alert. For people without an app on their phone, the wireless emergency alerts will be sent out, but they'll only reach people who are expected to feel shaking with an intensity level of four or higher.

Officials said this is a stark reminder that emergency system alerts like MyShake may not always get to you before you feel shaking. Officials also said its best for everyone to talk to family members right now about how you plan to communicate in the event that the big one happens.

You can also download the MyShake App by heading to: