iPhone to Carry Earthquake Warnings

Apple is adding earthquake notification for Japanese users of the iPhone. But the alerts aren’t in an app: instead they are built into the operating system itself.

The iOS5 feature was uncovered by 9to5Mac, which was sent a screenshot of the Japanese edition. It connects the device to an early warning system launched in 2007 by the Japan Meteorological Agency and the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention (who are responsible for the image above). The system issues alerts through a combination of broadcast media, cellphones and facilities with large populations such as factories or schools.

Earlier this year when an earthquake and subsequent tsunami devastated part of Japan, the system sent out alerts just three seconds after the earthquake struck. Time noted that although the alert often gives notice of a matter of seconds before the secondary, destructive waves of an earthquake hit, that can be enough to take important steps from simply taking cover to halting medical surgery.

It’s likely that the combination of the alert system and Japan’s engineering expertise with construction saved thousands of lives in March’s quake — a factor that was understandably overlooked by most reports of the tragic loss of life.

iPhone users will have the option to switch the alerts on or off. The one downside is that the monitoring will create additional demands on the phone’s battery.

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