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There’s nothing like an earthquake to provide the literal jolt often required to motivate businesses and IT leaders to think more about disaster preparedness. A recent series of powerful earthquakes in Southern California has reminded everyone just how vulnerable businesses in the area really are.

What most business and IT leaders often don’t fully appreciate is how much of a crucial difference a few seconds of warning that a major earthquake is imminent can make to a business. Managed service providers (MSPs) that operate in California might want to pay more attention to a ShakeAlert project being led by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), along with a coalition of state and university partners. 

ShakeAlert is an early warning system that relies on thousands of sensors that are being installed all over California to alert authorities whenever a sizable earthquake is imminent. Thus far, over $16 million has been spent to create a prototype of a ShakeAlert system that is similar to another early warning system that has already been deployed in Japan.

There is also a nascent effort to create an early warning system that would detect earthquakes off the West Coast. The Pacific Northwest Earthquake Preparedness Act of 2019, introduced by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, was created to establish an early warning system for offshore earthquakes off the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. This bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in February and is now awaiting a companion bill in the Senate.

The USGS estimates the system will ultimately cost $39.4 million just to complete. On top of that, it’s estimated annual operation and maintenance cost will be $28.6 million per year. Building a highly reliable data telemetry infrastructure would cost another $20.5 million and operating this telemetry system would add $49.8 million per year.

Sensor generated data can be fed into disaster recovery applications

In the same way that sensors are employed to drive an Internet of Things (IoT) applications, alerts indicative of an imminent major earthquake could be used to automatically redirect Internet traffic from one data center to another. That capability is already being employed to minimize the impact of hurricanes on IT operations. The only difference is that everyone knows a hurricane is coming days in advance. In contrast, earthquakes provide only a few seconds of warning before disaster strikes.

At this stage, the government agencies building the ShakeAlert system are only planning on exposing application programming interfaces (APIs). The USGS makes point of disclosing the fact that it does not have the mission, infrastructure, or expertise to perform public notifications and is therefore recruiting technology enablers from the private sector to accomplish that goal.

There is a way for MSPs and the IT vendors that support them to get involved. UCSG says ShakeAlet consists of three layers to first collect raw ground-motion data from field stations (data layer), then analyze the data to estimate the area and intensity of the resulting shaking (production layer), and a third alert layer that can support thousands of institutional users and alert redistributors. For now, most of that effort is focused on building mobile applications that would give people about a 20 second warning that an earthquake is imminent.

It should be obvious that there is a lot of the technology mitigating the potential damage caused by earthquakes. The issue now is summoning up the collective will to actually employ it.

Photo: Inked Pixels / Shutterstock

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Mike Vizard

Posted by Mike Vizard

Mike Vizard has covered IT for more than 25 years, and has edited or contributed to a number of tech publications including InfoWorld, eWeek, CRN, Baseline, ComputerWorld, TMCNet, and Digital Review. He currently blogs for IT Business Edge and contributes to CIOinsight, The Channel Insider, Programmableweb and Slashdot. Mike blogs about emerging cloud technology for Smarter MSP.

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