If you’ve purchased a laptop over the past few years it’s very likely to contain a device called an accelerometer — a sensor that can save your hard drive by registering if you’ve dropped your precious Mac or PC. In a genius feat of repurposing, Elizabeth Cochran of the University of California, Riverside and and Jesse Lawrence of Stanford have created a free computer program that uses your accelerometer to turn your computer into a seismometer that can easily detect earthquakes. They’re working on building a network of earthquake-detecting computers around the world in order to crowdsource seismic data and get people to safety faster.

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personal computer, laptop, seismometer, earthquake, scientists, tremor, fault line

Your accelerometer won’t detect small tremors, but it can detect earthquakes larger than 4.0 on the Richter scale — those most likely to cause damage and require immediate attention. The program runs unnoticed whenever your computer is on, and when it detects a tremor it sends a message to the researcher’s lab. They’re able to monitor these pings, and when they receive a large number of messages in a localized area they know they’ve caught a quake! With this info they can send out early warnings to residents to give them a few seconds to get to a safe place.

The program — which is called The Quake-Catcher Network — even has an “earthquake monitor” section where you can use an interactive map to monitor earthquake activity on The Quake-Catcher Network across the world. Talk about a time drain — surfing the web for earthquakes sounds awesome! The network currently has 1,000 computers online worldwide but they need as many as they can get to take accurate measurements. We’re totally downloading this on the Inhabitat computers. With our powers combined perhaps we can help make getting to safety a little easier in the event of an earthquake.

+ The Quake Catcher Network