US Navy photo of the March 2011 earthquake in Japan

The technology used in smartphones and laptops could be used to send real-time information about a strong earthquake to a central command center.

Smartphones have already made minute-by-minute communication easier. To witness the effect earthquakes and other natural disasters have, one only needs to be on Twitter or Facebook to see the posts piling up within a few minutes of each other. After some research, seismologists from the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology plan to use smartphones in a different way.

Antonio D’Alessandro and Giuseppe D’Anna published the results of their study in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America and found the tiny sensor found in smartphones for adjusting the orientation of the screen could be used to create a real-time urban seismic network. The study involved testing the Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) accelerometers in iPhones and compared it to an earthquake balance accelerometer. They concluded the MEMS accelerometers in smartphones can detect earthquakes greater than magnitude 5 when located near the epicenter, but it is less effective for weaker earthquakes. D’Alessandro and D’Anna suggest that this technology could transmit in real-time ground motion data to a central location, helping first responders identify the areas with greatest damage.

“A real-time urban seismic network can drastically reduce casualties in urban areas immediately following a strong earthquake, by quickly distributing information about the distribution and intensity of ground shaking,” D’Alessandro said.

Because the sensors are so common in mobile technology today, seismologists could use the data to reduce the time it takes to gather information and deploy emergency responders. However, the technology is significantly less helpful in regions with poor internet connections.

Source: Seismological Society of America via Wired UK

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