Smartphone-based air raid alerts are one of the many awful facts of life in Ukraine right now. While the Ukrainian government has an air raid warning system that currently runs through a third-party app, Google is taking it upon itself to build an “Air Raid Alerts” system directly into Android. The company outlined the decision on the Google Blog:
Tragically, millions of people in Ukraine now rely on air strike alerts to try to get to safety. At the request, and with the help, of the government of Ukraine, we’ve started rolling out a rapid Air Raid Alerts system for Android phones in Ukraine. This work is supplemental to the country’s existing air raid alert systems, and based on alerts already being delivered by the Ukrainian government.
Google is rolling out the feature via Google Play Services, which means it should work for nearly every Android phone. While Android OS updates are infamously rolled out to only a single-digit percentage of users in a year, Google Play Services updates through the Play Store, so an update will happen for everyone as soon as their phone checks for app updates.
Android’s VP of Engineering, Dave Burke, announced the new feature on Twitter, saying the alerts use the same low-latency alert system the Android team designed for Android’s earthquake detection. While the Earthquake detection system can spawn an earthquake alert of its own by crowdsourcing the accelerometer data from millions of Android phones, Google isn’t detecting air raids and is just building a client for the government’s alert system.
Burke says: “The system starts rolling out today and will ramp up to target all Android phones in Ukraine over the next few days. Thankful to our eng/product/UX teams for racing to get to a [solution] in short order.”