Around 70,000-1,00,000 lives are lost due to earthquakes each year, and almost a third of the world’s population lives in seismically active regions.
An early warning system can save thousands of lives, and this is why countries like Mexico, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have deployed a national Earthquake Early-Warning (EEW) system. Besides killing thousands of people, these natural disasters destroy infrastructure worth billions of dollars. Earthquakes often have a worse impact on developing nations due to their poor construction and infrastructure. For instance, the 2010 Haiti earthquake killed more than 200,000 people and caused damage worth over $10 billion.
Timely alerts can save lives and billions of dollars in communities where earthquakes can potentially cause massive destruction. EEW systems provide public alerts in many countries, and in this scenario even a few seconds can make a huge difference. However, a limited number of governments have attempted to build EEWs due to the incredibly high-cost of traditional seismometers, dedicated telecommunications, and bespoke software.
OpenEEW by Grillo
Grillo under the hosting of the Linux Foundation has proven that an IoT based approach to open-source EEW systems is not only efficient and within reach of many global citizens, but performs as well if not better than the government-run systems. By standardizing a mix of off the shelf components, software, and know-how it would be possible to facilitate the creation of new community EEWs around the world.
The Grillo team has developed and deployed an IoT based system in Mexico and Chile, and it has been operational since 2017. Ever since 2017, it issues public alerts through Twitter, a mobile app, and an alarm device. In 2019, there was a comparison between OpenEEW and the first public EEW in the world, Mexico’s SASMAX (which was developed decades ago at an enormous cost). The results speak for themselves. (Image)
How OpenEEW Works
The OpenEEW is developed with several core IoT components — sensor hardware and firmware that can rapidly detect and transmit gound motion, real-time detection systems that can be installed on various platforms from the Kubernetes cluster to a Raspberry Pi, and user EEW applications.
Google’s early warning system utilizes the built-in accelerometers in Android phones to detect earthquakes. It then alerts Google’s earthquake detection servers that
However, Grillo’s OpenEEW Sensors use a high-performance Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) accelerometer, a network connector, a loud buzzer, and 3 bright Neopixel LEDs. It has already been proven to work as good as seismometers that cost 60 times more. For instance, the OpenEEW system detected the recent 4.8 Puerto Rico earthquake as it happened.
Difference between the approaches
There are two noticeable differences between Grillo’s OpenEEW sensors and the ones present in our smartphones. This was well explained by Grillo’s founder Andres Meira. He said that the phone approach would work well in the urban areas, “Google’s smartphone solution doesn’t work well in seismic regions where earthquakes happen in sparsely populated areas (
OpenEEW sensors have already been deployed and are operational since 2017 in Mexico, Chile, Puerto Rico, and Costa Rica. Grillo sensors have already accumulated more than 1 TB of data.
IBM, an OpenEEW founding member is helping deploy more sensors in Puerto Rico. The two work collectively using an IBM cloud-hosted Node-Red dashboard. IBM is also working on a Docker containerized version of the detection components, which can be installed to Kubernetes and Red Hat OpenShift on the IBM cloud.
Besides saving lives, the project’s point is to inspire creators, data scientists, entrepreneurs, and seismologists to build EEWs in places like Nepal, New Zealand, Ecuador, and other regions prone to earthquakes. OpenEEW also believes that open-source developers and engineers can assist in advanced sensor hardware design, enhance earthquake detection and characterization through machine learning, and create new ways for delivering alerts to people.
At last, we can all agree that both Google and OpenEEW’s projects will certainly help the seismically active zones in the future.