Frequently Asked Questions

What is ShakeAlarm?

ShakeAlarm is an Earthquake Early Warning System.  It is designed to give you advance warning of an impending major earthquake by detecting "P" waves and calculating the magnitude and timing of the following "S" wave which will generally arrive in the next 5-25 seconds. 

5-25 seconds?  That doesn't sound like a lot?

It's 5-25 seconds more than we have today.  It's enough time to take one decisive action to improve the safety of you, your family, and your property.  It makes the difference between total shock and surprise vs. situational awareness.

Ok.  So how does it work?

A network of seismic sensors are installed in the service area of Southwestern British Columbia.  These are all able to identify potential earthquakes and report their findings in real time to a central control centre.  This facility, in turn, triggers notifications to mobile users on Apple and Android smart phones. 

How long does all that take?

The notification from a seismic sensor to the control centre is almost instantaneous.  We use a variety of communications paths, and under normal conditions they would all generally be working because the earthquake hasn't hit... yet.  The delivery of notifications to smart phones is also just about instantaneous.  In testing the entire process routinely takes under 1 second.

What happens when my phone receives an alert?

It will make a very loud noise and push an urgent notification to your screen, no matter whether it's asleep in your pocket or if you're in the middle of using it for something else. 


Below is how a “real” alert and “test” alert compare, side by side:

 Earthquake Warning System


What do I do next?

You should already have discussed your various options and have a general idea of what to do for typical places you might find yourself:  at work, at home, commuting.  Follow those general steps first.  Once you've done that, look at your phone.  There may be other alerts, and you'll be able to see which sensor(s) detected them, where those sensors are located, and how strong the expected quake might be.

If you need help assembling an Emergency Preparedness Plan for you and your family, there are some great resources available online.  The most important thing is for the plan to be simple, so everyone can remember it, and actionable, so you're not left confused and frightened.  Earthquakes are scary and we want you to have a strong sense of what to do, and comfort that your family will be thinking exactly the same thing.

How do I get involved?

You'll be able to download the ShakeAlarm apps from the Apple and Google Play stores.  Once you download and install them, you'll probably need to approve a few permissions before the app will work correctly.  The most important one is Push Notifications, so when asked, please say Yes.  We won't deliver annoying messages which you'll want to suppress and disable, we promise!

Does it cost anything?

Participation in the ShakeAlarm-BC trial is free. 

When will it be available?

The Android app is available for download here.  The Apple version may take a little longer.  We made some improvements to the app at the last minute which delayed our release from the original target of early May. 

What else does the app do?

In addition to the default sound and picture, you can customize those items if you want.  You can record your own alert message, for example if you have a younger child who will respond better to an alert in your own voice, you can replace the default klaxon sound with a message of your choosing.  You can also change the Emergency Alert icon to whatever picture you like.

How does it get activated?

Once you download and install the app, when you first run it you'll be prompted to enter a Registration Key.  You'll get that key from us and it will identify you as a participant in the ShakeAlarm-BC Trial.  There is a Save Settings button which you should click to confirm your preferences, and that's it.  You're up and running.

What if I upgrade my phone?

Apple and Android both support operating system upgrades which preserve the user's apps and preferences.  In the unlikely event that a major upgrade from either company creates a problem for our app, we'll let users know immediately and deliver a fix ASAP.  If you get a new phone entirely, both platforms let you copy over all your old apps and settings as part of the setup of the new phone.

How do you do testing?

We have an ability to simulate two types of alerts:  test alerts, and real alerts.  A simulated test alert still generates a notification on your phone, but the labeling makes it clear that it's not a real earthquake.  A simulated real event, on the other hand, looks and sounds exactly like you'd experience for a real emergency.

Our intention is to notify users ahead of time before any tests.  As a matter of good practice, we believe regular testing is important, but doing so while avoiding the "crying wolf" phenomenon is of paramount importance.  So we'll publish a schedule of tests well in advance and also email all our registered users to let them know beforehand.

We'll never send a simulated REAL event without extensive prior notice.  But we will want to test events because we need to make sure our users get the notifications quickly and take appropriate action. 

What are Push Notifications, and why should I allow ShakeAlarm to use them?

Push Notifications are the standard way apps on your phone get your attention.  When you get a text, or someone outbids you, or any number of other things, the little pop-ups you see are all Push Notifications.  Both Apple and Android use similar mechanisms to deliver them, though there are some important differences.  As a result, the Apple and Android versions of the apps have to conform to each system's particular rules.

One big difference between Apple and Android is that, in Android, we can pop our app to the foreground on your phone when a Push Notification is delivered.  Apple doesn't permit that behaviour by default, and the process to submit a written appeal for an exception is rarely successful. 

On both platforms, the Push Notifications are still visible in the normal phone queue, and you can tap them to take you to the app which is associated with the alert. 

When you first install the app, your phone will ask you to confirm you are giving the app permission to use Push Notifications.  We strongly recommend you to grant this permission, since the essential feature of the app is to alert you under those urgent circumstances.  If you don't give the permission at first but later change your mind, you can enable it within your phone's Settings app. 

What if I don't want to participate any more?

You can uninstall the app at any time, and you'll receive no further test or real alerts.

What if I have other questions?

Please contact us!  We'll do our best to gather up additional FAQs and add to this list so everyone can benefit.