The Japan earthquake is a sobering reminder how disruptive and frightening a natural disaster of great magnitude can be, even for the most prepared of people (Japan's high-tech warning system and strict building codes are unsung heroes). Living in Southern California and along one of the most feared sleeping giants of potential seismic devastation, there's a good chance we'll have to ride out something possibly as horrifying as the Japan quake. The tragedy unfolding has reminded us to refresh our emergency packs (two in the house, one in the car), refreshing batteries, making sure our solar LED flashlight is working, looking into alternative emergency communications if phone/cell networks are down (friends noted they were able to reach others in Japan via Skype when cell networks were clogged by too many incoming calls). And then there's also the option of installing something more interactive in the research of seismic activity...
The NetQuakes seismograph are measuring devices that connect to the internet via a wireless router and broadband internet connection. The seismograph transmits data only after earthquakes greater than magnitude 3 and otherwise do not consume significant bandwidth. The volunteer supported device was designed to be maintenance-free; the USGS. will simply mail volunteers a new machine if inoperable or damaged, and they can mail back the old one, all modeled after Netflix.
Note, the Netquake is NOT a predictive device, but created to help the USGS understand earthquakes better:
The USGS is trying to achieve a denser and more uniform spacing of seismographs in select urban areas to provide better measurements of ground motion during earthquakes. These measurements improve our ability to make rapid post-earthquake assessments of expected damage and contribute to the continuing development of engineering standards for construction.
To accomplish this, we developed a new type of digital seismograph that communicates its data to the USGS via the internet. The seismographs connect to a local network via WiFi and use existing broadband connections to transmit data after an earthquake. The instruments are designed to be installed in private homes, businesses, public buildings and schools with an existing broadband connection to the internet.
Our older 1920's apartment doesn't qualify, due to the basement. But perhaps some of your California/Pacific Northwest residents who meet the requirements will be spurred to participate and help us face the humbling threat of a major earthquake better prepared. More informationa bout the NetQuakes device here.