BERKELEY (KRON) — If a major earthquake were to strike in the Bay Area, the public would receive no warning — but that could be about to change, thanks to a program currently in development.  

Over the years, the U.S. Geological Survey and its partners, including the Berkeley Seismology Lab, have been developing the Shake Alert. 

Shake Alert is an earthquake early warning system that could one day send alerts to people’s cell phones.

Berkeley Seismologist Angela Chung explained how the system works.

“Earthquake early warning is not prediction,” Chung said. “We are not telling you that an earthquake is going to happen. We are telling you that an earthquake has started and that you are about to feel shaking.”

Right now, Shake Alert is operating in a very limited capacity.  

Only researchers and a handful of agencies have access to the system. 

Even so, the recent Ridgecrest earthquakes in Southern California gave seismologists like Chung a chance to see how the sensor network and alerts would work during a big quake.

“What we have learned from Ridgecrest in particular is what we can do with some of these larger events. Realistically what can we expect from these bigger earthquakes. We’ve learned some things about our algorithms and their limitations and now we are learning how to adapt and improve them so we can do a better job in the future,” Chung said. 

At this point, it’s unclear when Shake Alert will be available to the general public.

There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. 

They need to secure funding to build out the earthquake sensor network and keep the system running indefinitely. 

They also need to work on algorithms and software that make it all happen.  

But one day soon, we may all be able to receive alerts on our phones when an earthquake is about to hit.