Businesses were mandated to install fire alarms decades ago to mitigate property damage. Mandated wireless sensor network alarm systems might offer similar benefits for the supply chain in the event of a universal natural disaster.
Japan has some of the most advanced early warning systems for natural disasters in the world. Bullet trains, for example, continuously monitor seismic or other unusual activity that indicates risk. Data from wireless sensor systems is processed by real-time analytics software that automatically shuts down the trains prior to an earthquake, according to a report by Information Week.
Early warning systems track any deviation from the expected norm and broadcast their occurrence to the at-risk party. Tsunami early warning systems, for example, have a sensor on the ocean floor, which measures wave height and pressure at intervals of 15 seconds and transmits, via an acoustic modem, the readings to a buoy floating on the ocean surface, according to a report by Emergency Management. When the system records a deviation, it broadcasts a warning to subscribers.
In addition, low-orbit satellites and sensors are significantly improving diverse weather forecasts. Infrared and microwave sensors with the satellites collect granular data of temperatures, pressures, and moisture in every corner of the earth at shorter intervals. These sensors can also penetrate clouds or any other natural obstruction like a mountain. The data is fed into forecasting models that improve in accuracy with the richer data. The early warnings can also be relayed sooner so that subscribers will have more time to respond, a Scientific American report said.
The overwhelming volumes of data, if unmanaged, might crash the average network. However, data analytics tools for querying streams of data, such as one offered by SQLstream, can parse the data to look for anomalies without storing the data anywhere. These analytics tools filter the relevant data with a query and discard the rest.
The issues of financing early warning programs are illustrated by the experience of one California program for earthquakes. A test version of the program recently alerted Caltech scientists, who are the architects of the program, to an earthquake in Anza, Calif., according to a report by the Los Angeles Times. The pilot program is funded by the Gordon and Betty More Foundation. For placing sensors across the state, the program will need an additional $80 million in funding. It is hard to imagine that nationwide and worldwide programs for sensor data will be possible without paid commercial services.
In today's budget-conscious world, most organizations will put investments in this type of system low on the priority list, even as these systems get more effective and less expensive. Long intervals between natural disasters lull people into believing that they won't happen again. In the end, mandatory purchase of early warning alerts may be the only way to achieve broad adoption.