CSN Overview

We are seeking Pasadena-area volunteers to host a small seismometer in their homes for several years, beginning in April, 2011.  The data from these devices will be used to provide rapid response information to emergency personnel shortly after an earthquake.  A key project goal is to create block-by-block “shake maps” that can be used by first responders within minutes after an earthquake occurs, to dispatch resources even after civilian communication systems have failed.

Science and technology background

Like all of Southern California, the greater Pasadena area (including Altadena, Sierra Madre, San Marino and South Pasadena) is vulnerable to damaging earthquakes.  Earthquake energy is not distributed evenly across the landscape, and so some locations shake much more than others.  Shaking is closely correlated with structural damage, which in turn correlates with human injury.  In the aftermath of an earthquake, it is very important to know where the strongest (and weakest) shaking occurred .  Historically, such damage and injury information has been reported by civilians hours or days later, when failed communication systems have been restored.  In the meantime, first responders are left with fragmented information, and are likely to make poor decisions in deploying limited resources.

The data from the existing four high-quality reference seismometer installations in the Pasadena region is not sufficient to produce the kind of detailed information that first responders need.  We plan to cover the region with over a thousand low-cost, moderate-quality vibration sensors placed in homes and businesses, that collectively generate high resolution, block-by-block shaking data required by first responders.

We expect first responder organizations—police, fire, water and power agencies, telecom providers, large building operators, school administrators, pipeline operators, public health, Red Cross—to combine our shake maps with internal infrastructure maps in order to make decision about where, when, and how to respond.  For example, a subscriber agency might have a database of maximum acceleration forces that each key structure is designed to withstand; this database could be compared against a shake map to determine which structures are most likely to have been damaged and the projected impact.

Our devices are designed to be attached to a floor, wall, or desk, and are connected via a six-foot cable to an existing, internet-connected stationary computer with an unused USB port.  A small software application runs on the PC to collect vibration data many times a second, and if strong shaking is detected, an alert is sent over the internet to a remote service that analyses reports from all of the devices to determine that an earthquake has just occurred and produce a shake map.  Even with a severe, nearby earthquake, the remote CSN service should receive useful data in the few seconds before internet service fails, construct a shake map, and deliver it to subscribers.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions and their answers.