Global Challenges Research Fund: Research for Emergency Aftershock Response

Author: Amy Krause
Posted: 24 Apr 2017 | 11:21

Recent devastating earthquakes in Nepal and Italy have illustrated the need for better understanding and more accurate operational forecasting of aftershock sequences to assist emergency response. This project is a multi-disciplinary collaboration to develop risk assessments for earthquake aftershocks using dense networks of traditional seismometers, and to explore the use of mobile phones as sensors and for community engagement. 

While it is not possible to reliably forecast individual earthquakes, research in the area of aftershocks has progressed rapidly and it is now possible to make practically actionable forecasts. Our main project partner is the international charity Concern Worldwide and it is guiding our work to develop ideas and pilot their implementation.

Emergency response obstacles

At the project kick-off meeting, Concern Worldwide gave a presentation about its emergency response in Nepal and described the social, cultural and political obstacles it faced when trying to take humanitarian aid to the affected areas. In a collaboration with the University of Edinburgh’s School of Geosciences, the charity’s staff were trained to assess risks using probabilities for the location and size of aftershocks in an area, helping them to make informed decisions about their next steps. For example this was used to decide whether to set up temporary accommodation in tents and avoid buildings, or whether a particular area might be at high risk of aftershocks requiring emergency supplies, or landslides might make roads impassable.

Seismology monitor app

EPCC has been tasked with building and providing the data infrastructure for the pilot, which consists of a smartphone app and database. The CitiSeisApp for Android devices uses available phone sensors, such as the accelerometer and gyroscope, to measure seismological activity, and GPS to record the location. Data is stored temporarily on the phone and then transferred to the datacentre at EPCC for further analysis.

The infrastructure to deploy smartphones as seismometers is usually readily available and mobile provider infrastructure allows the transfer of real-time data to a central data store.

We plan to implement pre-processing mechanisms such as LTA/STA (Long Term Averaging/Short Term Averaging) triggers in the app to reduce the data size, and hence the data transfers when there is no activity.

Once the data collected by the smartphone has been uploaded to the data store, researchers can choose the data they wish to analyse by selecting a particular device and the time period they are interested in.

CitiSeisApp is available in the Google Play store. In this pilot it will be deployed on a number of smartphones that have been purchased and managed by the project. The phones will be placed in a mount on a wall, ensuring that they are in a stable position without undue signal noise created by shaking the phone. This will allow an assessment of the effect of aftershocks on possibly already damaged buildings.

Currently we are targeting only phones managed by the project, but once the smartphone app is deployed on a volunteer device there are data privacy concerns as the GPS locations and other data are recorded. This would reveal private information that may make it possible to track and identify the user.

In other workpackages the project will also develop the aftershock science to bring state of the art operational forecasting to emergency response, look at the influence of culture on aftershock response, and build a framework for the educational aspects through community engagement.


Top. Ratna Khatri, 88 years of age, sits in the makeshift shelter her family have built since their home in the Dolakha District of Nepal was destroyed by the earthquake, whilst her granddaughter goes through the box of supplies distributed by Concern Worldwide. Photographer: Brian Sokol/ Panos Pictures for Concern Worldwide/Nepal/2015

Below. The CitiSeisApp interface.












Amy Krause, EPCC

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