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 / Updated  / Source: NBC News

A network of smartphones could deliver early earthquake warnings in areas of the world that are prone to quakes but cannot afford more expensive systems, according to new research.

The technique relies on the GPS sensors built into the phones to detect large ground movements. It isn’t quite as effective as the earthquake early-warning systems in places like Japan, and can register only temblors of magnitude 7 or higher. But it doesn’t require a large number of participants to work and could give valuable alerts, said researchers for the study led by the U.S. Geological Survey and published Friday in the journal Science Advances.

“The U.S. earthquake early warning system is being built on our high-quality scientific earthquake networks, but crowd-sourced approaches can augment our system and have real potential to make warnings possible in places that don’t have high-quality networks,” Douglas Given, USGS geophysicist, said in a statement.

The crowd-sourced approach to earthquake detection and warning could be used with current smartphone models, the researchers wrote in their study, sending customized alerts to people who have not yet felt the earthquake as well as those in the zone itself.