European center tracks Web site hits after earthquakes

It won't replace seismographs, but the European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre has come up with a quick and dirty method for determining the impact of earthquakes — by tracking the geographic locations of visitors to its Web site.

Traditional seismological procedures can take as long as several hours to register and measure the impact of an earthquake, but the center’s Web-generated maps can provide information on the impact of an occurrence in less than 10 minutes.

The data from Web hits won't help scientists determine the magnitude of an earthquake or its geological nature, but it promises to deliver a quicker heads-up to policy-makers and first responders.

“This approach focuses on the reaction of the population rather than the physical seismological data from the earthquake itself,” said Rémy Bossu, the center’s secretary general. “Measuring the extent of an earthquake as quickly as possible is critical to determining the impact to surrounding population centers and their infrastructures."

The center uses Digital Element's IP Intelligence software to identify the geographic locations of site visitors down to the city level and then automatically map the locations that show significant increases in visitors. The application also infers and maps areas that might have been hard hit based on a significant lack of visitors because of damaged infrastructure.

Of course, that method would be most effective in regions in which users are likely to turn to a single Web site for information in the event of an earthquake. In regions in which Internet users are inclined to check multiple news sources, it might be more effective to apply the software analysis to search engine queries, though such an effort could raise privacy concerns.

About the Author

Patrick Marshall is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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