Systems that warn citizens of impending doom in the minutes or seconds before a natural disaster hits already exist, but a new natural disaster warning system from IBM does them one better—not only does IBM's software predict whether shockwaves from an earthquake will form a tsunami, but it can also pinpoint when a seismic event began, how long it lasted, how intense it was, the frequency of motion, and more. It's the kind of information that is critical to first responders in the days after disasters.
The invention uses data generated by vibration sensors (known as MEMS accelerometers) within computer hard disk drives to quickly analyze and assess information generated by seismic events. This technique is enabled by collecting hard drive sensor data and transmitting it via high speed networking to a data processing center, which can analyze the data, classify the events, and enrich the data—in real time.
IBM's software is so precise that it can home in on the effects that an earthquake has on a specific building. According to IBM's patent, "the motion and response of a building to a seismic event can be measured or derived using the information gathered by all of the vibration sensors or accelerometers located within the data processing systems within the building. In this manner, models of how individual buildings react to a seismic event can be created." Once IBM knows how a building made from specific materials reacts to a seismic event, it can infer how other similar buildings might react as well.
No word on when—or if—IBM's system will be commercialized, but those of us in earthquake-prone areas hope it's released sooner rather than later.