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.
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!