Public: Disaster: Earthquake
Seismic Cell Towers   (+4, -5)  [vote for, against]
Cellphone Towers Sense Earthquakes

Cellphone towers are all over, they are anchored firmly to the ground (most of them outside of cities, anyhow) and they communicate with each other (how do they, by the way?).

Each tower could have seismic sensing equipment installed, with automatic processing and communication of the data via their network. The towers could help locate an earthquake's epicenter with greater accuracy than is now done, as there are lots of towers for gathering data, and the chances are good that one of them is sitting directly atop the epicenter.

Better than locating the epicenter is the detection of the movement of the ground throughout the area. In some quakes the ground heaves or moves side-to-side in a wavelike motion. The network of towers could detect such ground waves and their direction of travel, as well as size. The networked detection equipment could determine, for instance, that there was a wave travelling south at 450 mph with an up-and-down movement of three inches, through Richman, or that Poormans Fault was unzipping from there to there at that speed.

The information about earth movements can be transmitted ahead of the waves, and the cell towers in sufficiently-threatened areas instructed to transmit a mass warning alert to all phones (assuming that can be done by transmitting only, like text). The people can then run like hell for the exits.

This is similar to Arthur's Cell_Phone_Tsunami_Warning but uses towers as detection centers and transmits warnings of land waves. Much of the discussion there will apply here. Based on that thread (and knowing human nature), the cell towers should switch to emergency mode and not take calls--or maybe transmit a locking signal to all cellphones in the area.

The towers will have to be designed or modified to be earthquake-proof, with a good power supply. Which would be a good thing in any disaster.

[Later addition: The towers and the antennae in cities could be fitted with flashing lights, smoke and sirens. I want the sirens to howl the Martian fighting machine's "Ullaa" from Jeff Wayne's musical version of "War of the Worlds".]
-- baconbrain, May 26 2005

Arthur's Cell_Phone_Tsunami_Warning Cell_20Phone_20Tsunami_20Warning
Great discussion of the problems, such as the fact that the towers would be first things to get damaged. [baconbrain, May 26 2005]

-- normzone, May 26 2005

Blenders? [Much, much later--Oh, now I get it!]
-- baconbrain, May 28 2005

In order to eliminate the problem of a tower getting destroyed, make other towers aware of each other, or have a single master/control tower somewhere "safe". When one tower stops responding, the others assume it was damaged.

However, I doubt this would warn people in time. It's kind of like watching someone pull a gun's trigger, then trying to quickly warn their target that they're about to be shot.
-- squogglewonker, May 28 2005

Yeah, it may be too slow for those close to the epicenter, or even at any distance where the earthquake effects will be damaging.
I've never heard anything about the "speed of damage" but I suppose we could work it out--I know that it has to be less than the speed of sound in solid rock (or does it?).
Even if the warning system is too slow, the cell towers could work as seismic stations.
In any case, cell towers should be be constructed to be earthquake-proof and supplied with independent power sources. Which will cost money, so it may take federal intervention to get it done. Although, a cell company that advertises "catastrophe-proof service" might get more customers.
And really, how little warning time is to little to be useful? Even a second's warning could save a lot of lives.
-- baconbrain, May 28 2005

//Even a second's warning could save a lot of lives.//

The problem is, that second would probably be wasted on panic before people are able to think rationally again.
-- squogglewonker, May 28 2005

True, but they panic now. Another second to get over the panic might help.
Or maybe we could hold practices and drills to reduce the element of panic. If people learned to quietly and quickly exit the building when all the cellphones go "bing-Bing-BING, bing-Bing-BING" and the cell towers howl "Ullaa", there would be less panic.
I'm staying in a post-quake town right now, and when there's a tremor people do panic, horribly, but they run for the doors.

Your point is a very good one. But when you put "people" and "think rationally" in the same sentence, it's hard to take you seriously.
-- baconbrain, May 29 2005

I came here to post almost this very same idea. Good thing I searched first! However, allow me to add the following:

1. There's no reason whatsoever that the seismic equipment should need to be colocated with the cell towers. You can have the seismic equipment ANYWHERE, and have it just call out through the cell phone network. You'd only lose milliseconds.

2. There's lots of other things that could be tied into this warning network. Besides sending out cell messages, it could be tied to:

o neighborhood sirens

o in-house or in-office "quake detectors" that sit next to your smoke detectors

o traffic signals (to prevent people from being stuck under overpasses or in tunnels when the quake hits)

o emergency TV broadcasts (that maybe show the quake spreading across a map)

o office building elevators

Etc., etc. I think this is an outstanding idea and am surprised it hasn't already been implemented.
-- schnitzi, Apr 15 2008

Blenders ?
-- normzone, Apr 15 2008

random, halfbakery