Seismic monitoring tends to pop up in the news only during disaster situations, or, more recently, in conjunction with North Korea’s possible detonation of a hydrogen bomb. Earlier in 2015, The New Yorker ran a piece, “The Really Big One,” looking at the probability of a large earthquake destroying the Pacific Northwest. The earthquake off the coast of Japan in 2011 triggered one of the largest nuclear plant meltdowns of recent history, the impact of which we are still dealing with today.
Point being, the typical association with seismic monitoring – earthquakes and explosions – is negative. The day-to-day reality, however, is much more interesting.
Every day, vast amounts of seismic data are being collected the world over, and that data is being reflected by cities taking action to create smarter, more resilient infrastructures – especially in areas where seismic activity either happens frequently or would be devastating were an event to occur. Geological hazard monitoring has become a primary focus for many areas of the world, and as the technology has matured, so has the ability to transport data in real time. In turn, with real-time data transport comes the ability to incorporate predictive analytics and more intelligent decision making for city planning and civil engineers.
New Zealand is an excellent example of the renewed emphasis on earthquake monitoring and preparedness. Each year, there are more than 250 significant earthquakes throughout New Zealand, so collecting that data allows scientists to detect, analyze and respond to the seismic activity. As the data is processed, the predictive analytics come into play. Data from these monitoring sites can be used to examine ground movement, which can indicate stress points, and to gauge the probability of an earthquake in the future. Today’s technology now allows all of that data to be transferred in real time from the monitoring sites to the back office, greatly increasing the ability to deploy it into actionable intelligence.
In 2011, when Christchurch, New Zealand, was hit with a series of devastating earthquakes and aftershocks – including an aftershock that “produced the highest peak ground accelerations on record” – the recovery effort was basically twofold: how could the city not only rebuild the structures and civic needs, but simultaneously make that infrastructure smarter and more resilient, able to predict and handle future seismic events without the crippling aftereffects. And the truth is, those exact questions are being asked by cities in similar positions on a daily basis.
What this all points toward is an evolving ability to synthesize IIoT communications technology, data collection and predictive analytics into a smarter and more resilient infrastructure for areas prone to seismic events. Things that used to fall into the realm of “the future” are now very real and very tangible solutions to nature’s enigmatic temperaments.