Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The new ShakeAlertLA app will send alerts to mobile devices seconds before an earthquake hits Los Angeles County.
The app, which uses sensors on fault lines to detect movement, could give people at least 5 to 10 seconds warning before a magnitude-5.0 quake or higher hits, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti's office said in a Los Angeles Times report. The farther away the earthquake, the more advanced warning people will get.
The app, which will be available for Android and Apple devices Thursday, was built under a contract between the city of Los Angeles and AT&T.
"By advancing earthquake early warning technology, we are making Los Angeles stronger, making Angelenos safer," Garcetti said in October. "And it'll help save lives, most important, by giving people those precious seconds to stop elevators, to pull to the side of the road, to drop, cover and hold on."
That additional time could allow utilities to turn off large high-pressure fuel lines, warn doctors to stop surgeries or transit agencies to slow down trains. Children could take shelter under desks.
In one example the Times cited, an earthquake starting at the Salton Sea southeast of Los Angeles and traveling 150 miles up the San Andreas fault could be detected more than a minute before it hits Los Angeles. Similar systems are already in place in Japan, Mexico and other places but they have also experienced false alerts and missed warnings. If the user is too close to the epicenter, it will be impossible to receive the warning before it hits.
Japan was able to stop its high-speed bullet trains before a magnitude-9.1 earthquake struck that country in 2011.
The ShakeAlertLA app was published online in secrecy Monday without any fanfare, Newsweek reported.
The app, which is also available in Spanish, may not work perfectly when it launches but Garcetti has said the partnership with the private sector will advance and improve the technology over time.
It uses hundreds of seismometers along faults in California, Oregon, and Washington to detect shaking, USA Today reported. The app tracks a user's location, which raises concerns for some critics, but it's necessary to know where a person is located before sending the alert.