Earthquakes! Theres an app for that (in California).
It's big and it's coming. PETROVICH9/GETTY IMAGES

As a New Year's gift, Los Angeles is getting an earthquake emergency warning app that can be downloaded onto smartphones. Yes! It (shockingly (not a pun)) even works on Androids!

The ShakeAlert app, a California-based earthquake sensor system, quietly went live on the App Store (and the Android equivalent) on New Year's Eve. This is a big deal for California and the $25 million of state money it funneled toward the project. It's not finished—more sensors need to be put in place for it to work as well as it can. California is aiming to have that complete system, if everything goes to plan, by 2021.

Still, the fact that these early warnings can be accessed directly via personal smartphone is huge. Washington state is leagues behind California in developing a ShakeAlert system. According to what Brittany Miller, the Deputy Emergency Manager at the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), told The Stranger, Washington's ShakeAlert system isn't even in the beta stage. Several state agencies including WSDOT have access to the current version of ShakeAlert, but it's a long way out from being in the public's hands.

Gov. Jay Inslee allocated $5 million in the Washington state budget for ShakeAlert. That funding will go toward implementing more earthquake sensors.

According to the Los Angeles Times, "There are 865 earthquake-sensing stations online for the early warning system on the West Coast, including 615 in California, but 810 more are needed, officials said."

In 2018, California budgeted an additional $15 million to add the remaining sensors to complete California's system. Gov. Kate Brown in Oregon put $12 million of her budget toward bettering ShakeAlert.

"This is an incredibly useful piece of technology," Miller with WSDOT said of ShakeAlert, "when we get to the point where it’s on an individual's cell phone it will give 15 to 30 seconds. That could save lives. We're actively working on it."

ShakeAlert works when earthquake sensors detect an initial seismic wave. That alert will come seconds before the actual quake, but that small amount of time is enough to make a significant difference.

"It doesn’t sound like a lot of time," Miller said, "but it’s enough time to get you cover." From WSDOT's perspective, emergency responders will be able to protect themselves in the quake and be able to respond to help the general public.

But, it's not available to Washington's general public. It won't be for a while.

"State emergency management has been doing a lot of outreach on this," Miller continued. "If a surgeon can stop performing a task on a patient or if fire department doors could automatically open—there are huge safety implications at play with [ShakeAlert.]"

In the meantime, Miller said, Washingtonians need to prepare for all disasters, even if they don't seem immediately imminent. That means making a supply kit in advance and not just raiding grocery store shelves at the eleventh hour.

"There's kind of that mindset that 'this will never happen in my lifetime,'" Miller said. "It's not a matter of if—it’s a matter of when."