“The Big One” is coming. Scientists don’t know exactly when it will hit, and they don’t know exactly where. But sooner or later, they say, an earthquake of at least a 7.8 magnitude will occur along the southern part of California’s San Andreas Fault.
When that happens, it could cause more than 1,800 deaths, 50,000 injuries and $200 billion in damage, according to Forbes. It reported that a 7.8 quake would be at least 44 times stronger than the Northridge earthquake that hit Southern California in 1994. That earthquake caused 72 deaths, some 9,000 injuries and approximately $25 billion in damage.
The threat isn’t isolated to California, however. As it happens, earthquakes can happen almost anywhere. During the last two decades, they’ve caused nearly 750,000 deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization, which says more than half of all deaths from natural disasters are from earthquakes.
Of course, it’s not just the quake itself that’s worrisome. When the ground suddenly starts shaking and shifting, fires, tsunamis, landslides and avalanches can follow.
Unfortunately, neither earthquakes nor their aftermath can be prevented. Deaths from earthquakes, however, are another story, which is why organizations have spent years working on ways to provide immediate and lifesaving alerts. One of the latest tools is something more and more people have handy: a smartphone.
The Best Sensor is the One in Your Pocket
In 2020, Google announced that it was building the world’s largest earthquake detection network. This warning system compiles data from Google’s vast web of Android phones to predict where earthquakes might strike. Its predictions could give just enough warning time to help people take shelter, and to slow trains or halt cars from entering sensitive infrastructure, potentially saving countless lives in the process.