Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

Using your hard drive to predict natural disasters

I have to admit, that's a headline I never expected to write.

IBM inventors have developed and patented a natural disaster warning system, which applies real-time analytics to data generated by vibration sensors within computer hard disk drives to assess seismic events and accurately predict the location and timing of subsequent catastrophic events.

The data is transmitted from individual computers over to a central data processing center, which will  analyze the data, classify the events, and enrich the data -- in real time.

One key benefit of this technique is in conducting accurate and precise post-event analysis of events such as earthquakes or providing early warnings for subsequent tsunamis, as well as rapidly measuring the damage zone of an earthquake to help prioritize emergency responses or otherwise aid in evacuation efforts.

The press release (MADE IN IBM LABS: IBM Inventors Create Warning System to Accurately Analyze, Assess and Predict Natural Disasters) points to the need for this type of analysis:

While the physics of earthquakes and earthquake detection is a well understood science, the seismograph technology used in this process is thinly distributed over a broad area around the world. Consequently, earthquake data is limited to a few geographical locations and little post-event analysis is available to aid emergency response. In addition, the seismographs do not provide fine-grained data about where emergency response is needed and cannot predict impending events, such as tsunamis.

IBM Master Inventor Bob Friedlander discusses the patent: