Monday, January 10, 2005

Amateur Tsunami Warning Systems

Robert X. Cringely has written about the feasibility of decentralized tsunami warning systems. Basically, a personal computer connected to the Internet can continuously monitor relevant seismographs and determine whether its particular location is at risk. Every beach would run its own instance, obviating the need for international coordination. A developer and an earth scientist have started an Open Tsunami Alerting System to develop the software necessary.

Meanwhile, world leaders have pledged to develop a centralized early warning system. It will be interesting to see how these parallel efforts progress. Perhaps this will be another battle in the "pro-am revolution," ushering in what David Brin called in The Transparent Society the "century of amateurs."

Of course, for such a decentralized effort to work, the people at the beaches need to be connected to the rest of the world. They need the seismographs from the Internet and the (rather modest) computer hardware to monitor them. They need local expertise to run the system. Unfortunately, judging by the graph below, they were completely unconnected to us:

Much of this tragedy could have been prevented if they were better connected to the rest of the world.


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