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Stay alert: Quake warning app demand surges in earthquake-rattled Taiwan

Stay alert: Quake warning app demand surges in earthquake-rattled Taiwan
Workers carrying out operations on a damaged building in Hualien, Taiwan, following a 7.2-magnitude quake in April 2024.
PHOTO: Reuters file

TAIPEI — Earthquake-warning smartphone apps have surged in popularity in Taiwan due to high demand from people eager to get a few extra seconds to take cover after more than 1,300 aftershocks rattled the island in April following a large temblor.

Taiwan's east coast was struck by a 7.2-magnitude quake on April 3, killing 17 people.

The frequent aftershocks since then — including more than 200 tremors in a 24-hour period starting on April 22 — have unnerved many.

While the Taiwan government has an automated quake-warning system, sent in the form of a text message accompanied by a loud alert meant to sound a few seconds before the shaking starts, its effectiveness can be patchy. In the capital Taipei, it did not sound before the April 3 quake, prompting criticism of the system.

That, and the rising demand to stay more informed about forthcoming earthquakes, have led to a surge in popularity in privately developed quake-warning apps.

"What we offer is customised earthquake early warning. You get to set your own threshold," said Disaster Prevention Information Platform co-founder Kuo Chen-yu, 20, whose users jumped to nearly 370,000 from around 3,000 in recent weeks.

Another co-founder Lin Ruei said the app, which was launched in 2022, tracks fast-moving seismic waves from more than 130 seismic sensors the team installed across the island to give users early warnings. For instance, he said, the app could give users in more populated western Taiwan a warning of up to 30 seconds for a quake from the remote eastern coast.

"Some people might feel quite panicked with just an earthquake of intensity two... they can download our app," said the 17-year-old student.

"If you get a 10-second early warning and you move to a secure spot, maybe it would be a life-saving tool for you."

The official government-run warning system goes out to phone users in only areas where major earthquakes with an estimated intensity of four or above are expected, which the authorities say are powerful enough to move some furniture, cause wall cracks or disrupt power or water supplies.

Director of the Taiwan Central Weather Administration's Seismological Centre Wu Chien-fu told Reuters it encourages development of alternative tools which provide innovative means for disaster response, adding the authorities were aware of calls to lower thresholds for official alerts. Its system was designed for bigger tremors that were more likely to cause damage.

"We will consider whether to issue warnings to the whole of Taiwan for big earthquakes," the director said.

Still, many people are drawn to the privately developed apps' extra functionalities, such as a light automatically switching on before the shaking starts, a countdown timer, or alerts for smaller quakes that do not trigger government warnings. It is reassuring for those who wish to be alerted over more tremors.

"The 30-second countdown gave me enough time to mentally prepare myself, grab my survival kit, and dash to my child's room," one user wrote in a review of Taiwan Earthquake Quick Alert, currently one of the most-downloaded apps for iPhones in Taiwan.

ALSO READ: Series of earthquakes rattle Taiwan, centred on east coast

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