Mobile applications and sensors are commonly used to monitor traffic, health & wellness and incidents such as road traffic accidents. But what about the threat of catastrophic disasters such as earthquakes where the loss of life can be unprecedented?
The sun drenched, Californian city of Pasadena is known for hosting the annual Rose Bowl Football game. It is also located near the infamous San Andreas Fault (SAF). If you paid attention in geography class at school or if you’ve seen the latest Hollywood blockbuster, ‘San Andreas’ starring ‘The Rock’, you’ll know that this means the city is at risk from earthquakes.
Can ‘The Rock’ save the day?
It is suspected that one day California will be hit by The ‘Big One’. This is a hypothetical earthquake of a magnitude ~8 or greater that is expected to happen along the SAF. Such an earthquake will result in devastation to human civilization within about 50-100 miles of the fault in urban areas such as Palm Springs, Los Angeles and San Francisco. No one knows when ‘The Big One’ will happen because scientists cannot predict earthquakes with any precision. However, technology is providing them with data that in time will give Californian residents a fighting chance of survival.
Seismometers are highly sensitive instruments that detect seismic activity that occur before earthquakes strike. Unfortunately, due to their cost, the number of seismometers in California are limited. The Southern California Seismic Network operates just 350 seismic stations and the Northern California Seismic Network has a further 412.
With the threat of ‘The Big One’ forever looming, The Caltec Institute in Pasedena embarked on a project to determine how they could provide a blanket of cheap Seismometers across the state.
Their answer? Smartphones! Yes, really!
Research conducted proved that accelerometers found in most smartphones are sensitive enough to detect large earthquakes.
Creating the ‘Community Seismic Network’ – Caltech is encouraging residents to opt-in to turn their smart phones into mobile seismometers by simply downloading an application called ‘Crowdshake’ onto their android device.
Caltec have said: “if only 1 percent of users in the area opted into the scheme, that few hundred seismometers would be augmented by several hundred thousand additional sensors giving sufficient intelligent processing”.
So how does it work?
Upon downloading the mobile application an algorithm executes in the background of the mobile device. Algorithms are monitored and when seismic motion is detected by the accelerometer, a message is sent to a Cloud Fusion Center which includes the time, location, and estimated amplitude of the data that triggered the message.
The benefit of the Community Seismic Network is huge. A dense, city-wide seismic network could be used to detect earthquakes rapidly after they start and measure the strength of shaking accurately as it unfolds.
What would this mean to Californian residents? Well, it will enable immediate action to be taken to prevent damage, such as stopping trains and elevators, stabilizing the power grid, and deploying emergency teams.
This is an astounding example of the Internet of Everything! People, data, process and things coming together to save lives in real-time!
Whilst the application is currently a research prototype and not yet fully deployed for public use, Caltech anticipate that the capability of real-time early warning may convince users to download and install the application when it is readily available.
So quite simply, it pays to ‘get social’ especially on those days when ‘The Rock’ isn’t around the save the day!
Today, the Wall Street Journal featured a video on Cisco’s Connecting Sichuan program, which revitalized healthcare with technology in Sichuan Province after a massive earthquake in 2008.
The program included mobile clinics equipped with Cisco videoconferencing technology and uplinks. Today these clinics connect rural villages to more than 30 networked hospitals around the region, giving rural doctors real-time face time with more experienced doctors hundreds of miles away.
In 2008, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake displaces 4.8 million residents and takes 68,000 lives in China’s Sichuan Province.
Following the 2008 earthquake, Cisco in partnership with the Chinese Government created a unique public-private partnership called Connecting Sichuan, a three-year, 45M corporate social responsibility program to revitalize the region, Read More »
In the last few years, technology has proven itself to be a mobilization powerhouse for disasters. Tales from the recent Japanese earthquake and tsunami abound. From the senior project manager who used Google’s People Finder tool to locate his Japanese grandfather, to the young schoolteacher who broadcast pleas for help via Twitter before the nearby nuclear plant exploded, technology has become a pivotal player in guiding relief efforts, making connections and educating people about disasters. Here are a few ways technology has proved its usefulness.
1. A tool in relief efforts
A key to successful disaster relief management is the rapid deployment of information and resources. People are often displaced and don’t know where to go or what to do. Buildings are destroyed. People missing. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Google collaborated with GeoEye to display images of destruction so organizers could identify areas in need of support. Here are some examples of those images.
Using technology to assist in disasters is not new. Cisco Systems was one of the first technology responders to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, providing mobile communication kits and networks to support the massive data infrastructure needed in relief efforts.
2. Generating support
Donations are essential in providing just in time services to those in need. The immediacy of technology makes it easy to appeal to human sentiment with immediate calls to action. Apple first added a page to its iTunes store for Haitian earthquake relief and now continues the practice for Japan. The Red Cross elicits donations through its Twitter feed and via text messages. This fundraising method garnered more than $4 million for Haiti. To amplify the efforts of the Red Cross, Mashable promoted its code snippet for blog and website owners to use in soliciting additional donations.
3. Connecting friends and family
At the time this post was written, more than 5,000 people had died and 9,500 were missing due to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Almost half a million are in shelters. Immediately following the crisis, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo issued a message to U.S. citizens in Japan encouraging them to contact their family and friends using SMS texting and social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. According to the Poynter Institute, a journalism school and resource, the Twitter hashtags #prayforjapan and #tsunami received thousands of tweets per second and a Facebook page set up for the disaster attracted more than 3000 followers in less than 12 hours.
Website registries have been set up to connect families and friends of those in the affected areas of Japan. In an effort to better consolidate registries and provide a single point of connection, Google has launched an open source multilingual and bilingual people finder tool for Japan to serve as a directory and message board for families and friends, as it did for the earthquakes in Chile, Haiti and New Zealand, Within the first few hours of launching, the tool logged more than 4,000 records.
Videogames and simulation software are another way responders are preparing for disasters. Software companies are creating mashups that combine satellite images, maps and spreadsheet data to create disaster scenario planning tools. Depiction is one such simulation application, used to train first responders. The tool combines live data feeds to create a dynamic tool that can be used for scenario planning, resource management, and logistics. Users can create alternative rescue routes, for example, by inputting data streams into the system real-time.
Children are one target group that organizers are keen to educate. The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) argues that children are amongst the most vulnerable to disasters but also the best positioned to be trained as future leaders, architects and urban planners. In response to this need, the ISDR created a multilingual online simulation game, Stop Disasters, to teach children about how to build safer cities and villages. Players can select one of five scenarios including a tsunami, earthquake, wildfire, flood or hurricane. They are given a budget and limited time to safely house residents, build hospitals and schools, retrofit buildings, and equip those buildings with evacuation plans and early warning systems. They learn how the location and construction of housing materials can improve the outcome of a disaster and how evacuation plans can help save lives. After the disaster hits, the user is scored on their success and told how they could have better prepared.
“The Day the Earth Shook” is an earthquake preparedness game for children created by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Created by the Electronic Visualization Lab (EVL) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and the Center for Public Safety and Justice, the game gives children the opportunity to explore a virtual world in which they learn how to create a disaster kit, locate safe locations in a home and safety tips.
6. Building and Rebuilding
The Global Innovation Commons is a vast database of over 500,000 energy-saving technologies with expired or abandoned patents. The goal of this organization is to provide access to open source technologies for life saving energy, water and agriculture devices. The patents in the database could save more than $2 trillion in license fees combined. But like most open source models, if you use anything in the database, you are encouraged to share your story with the community. In this video, Dr. David Martin, the founder of the Global Innovation Commons, talks about the organization:
While technology can’t bring back lost lives or repair billions of dollars in destroyed homes and businesses, it has proven itself to be an indispensable resource. And while technology’s role in connecting people through social media is invaluable, I do hope we can harness its powers to diminish the tragic effects of such disasters in the future.
Do you have examples about how technology is being used to assist in disasters or educate the public on preparedness? Share your comments below.
How easy it is to get caught up in what we see as the challenges and pressures of our own lives and lose a little perspective. Or worse still create a false perspective. But then every once in a while, amidst our personal whirlwind something happens to make us stop and reflect on where and who we are. And just maybe to prompt us to re-calibrate ourselves in some way – to regain lost perspective or recognise a change that’s needed. That catalyst might be something up-close and personal like a relationship issue, something a little further away like a colleague who falls ill, or even something seemingly un-related to us a world away.
Last Friday that catalyst for me was the massive earthquake and the ensuing tsunami in Japan. For me – no doubt like millions of people around the world – it brought out a range of emotions: shock at its scale; horror at its brutality; sadness for the lives lost; gratitude for my situation and family; amazement at the Japanese people’s resolve and calmness; and of course empathy.
Indeed it’s very often during times of adversity that our identification with and understanding of anothers’ situation grows and we intuitively focus on what brings us together, rather than what separates us. We feel a certain ‘connectedness’. Not only with Japanese communities around the world, but every community – from the local to the international – to instinctively understand that at this moment we can and must strive to achieve more together.