Given all the natural tragedies happening around the world—earthquakes and hurricanes, among others—it is paramount that state departments are able to respond accordingly and ensure critical infrastructure, such as bridges and roads, remain safe and secure.

In the past, it has been difficult for inspection teams to set priorities following a natural or man-made disaster due to the lack of information about where the greatest damage had occurred. However, as sensors and software are being developed further, public agencies are finding technology can help prioritize needs during a disaster.

Caltrans (The California Dept. of Transportation), www.dot.ca.gov, Sacramento, Calif., has always been on the leading edge of technology development, and recently announced its ShakeCast software is being used to monitor nuclear power plants in Japan and around the world.

The technology uses ground sensors to analyze earthquake shaking data in relation to performance characteristics of a bridge or other structure. The data can then be accessed in software, which allows responders to prioritize inspections immediately following an earthquake.

The IAEA (Intl. Atomic Energy Agency), www.iaea.org, Vienna, Austria, is now using the technology to monitor potential damage to nuclear facilities in Japan, and is also using ShakeCast to monitor nearly 200 power plants around the world.

While the IAEA is just beginning to use this technology, Caltrans has a bit of experience using this technology to identify damage following an earthquake. Caltrans used this technology during the 7.2 earthquake in Southern California in April 2010, and ShakeCast was able to identify the only bridge damaged in this event as the top priority.

In addition to the IAEA and DOTs, ShakeCast has been used by a number of other public agencies such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, www.laschools.org, Los Angeles, Calif., to improve earthquake monitoring and emergency response for more than 1,000 school buildings.

Caltrans continues to develop the technology. An upcoming version will also include the ability to assess soil liquefaction and landslide hazards for roadways after earthquakes.

For construction professionals, this technology is changing how bridges and roads are built and repaired. Sensors can provide public agencies and inspections teams with the critical information needed to identify the most crucial infrastructure needs following a natural or man-made tragedy. In the end, this will allow the industry to make more informed decisions about how to proceed when disaster strikes.