Scientists are Searching for The Perfect Earthquake Emoji to Save Lives

There are emojis for volcanoes and tornados, but why isn’t there an emoji for earthquakes?

When the earth is shaking beneath your feet and buildings are crumbling around you, reaching for your phone to send an emoji might not be your first reaction, but some earthquake scientists think it could be helpful, and perhaps even save lives.

That’s why a group of scientists around the world are now campaigning for an earthquake emoji to be added to the standard group of icons available on smartphones and computers worldwide. The scientists argue that emojis have the unique ability to cut through language barriers during natural disasters.

“If you have a symbol that everyone uses, then you can communicate that information in a timely manner,” one of the scientists, Kent State University geologist Chris Rowan in Ohio, told Newsweek.

The conversation started on Twitter just a few weeks ago and spread across the globe. The scientists are now seeking submissions from anyone who wants to create the new earthquake emoji, you don't have to be a scientist or a graphic designer to enter. The competition ends in July. 

On average, hundreds of millions of people around the globe feel earthquakes every year. The death toll was more than 250,000 between 2010 and 2015, according to an estimate from the United States Geological Survey, a scientific government agency.

The economic costs can also be staggering. A powerful earthquake that shook Japan in 2011 cost the country billions and left many residents homeless. The World Bank estimated that the economic impact could be up to $235 billion, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in recent history.

And of all natural hazards, the largest number of people are exposed to earthquakes. A universal way of describing an earthquake could only be beneficial during these events that are so common, the scientists said.

"Maybe up to one third of the world's population might be exposed to some [seismological] hazard," University of Southampton seismologist Stephen Hicks, a founder of the Emoji-quake campaign, told BBC News.

Once the group selects an emoji design, the new emoji will be submitted to the Unicode Consortium, a non-profit that oversees the development of new emojis.

“The real focus here is trying to improve Internet communication and access to information that is sort of percolating on things like Twitter and Facebook,” Rowans said.

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