Australian researchers develop tool to predict when a building will collapse

By Elton Gomes

Australian researchers stated they have developed a software tool to predict when a building could collapse or when its foundation could move. The tool could also predict when a dam could break or when a mudslide could occur.

Using applied mathematics and big data analytics, the tool analyses intricate ground motion patterns and tracks the location and time of landslides. The tool can forecast such unwanted events up to two weeks in advance, Xinhua reported. It uses new software that focuses on transforming algorithms and big data into risk assessment and management actions.

Professor Antoinette Tordesillas, a researcher from the University of Melbourne, said that “warning signs”  always exist in the leadup to a collapse or slope failure, but the tricky part lies in identifying where exactly they are.

Tordesillas said, “These warnings can be subtle. Identifying them requires fundamental knowledge of failure at the microstructure level – the movement of individual grains of earth,” as reported by Xinhua.

“Of course, we cannot possibly see the movement of individual grains in a landslide or earthquake that stretches for kilometers, but if we can identify the properties that characterize failure in the small-scale, we can shed light on how failure evolves in time, no matter the size of the area we are observing,” she added.

Importance in India

In India, where collapsing homes seem to be more deadlier than floods, this new software could be immensely helpful. Between 2010 and 2015, up to 1,366 incidents of collapsing buildings were reported from Mumbai alone. The city saw 74 people die after a seven-storey building collapsed in 2013.

“Under un-natural accidents, Mumbai city has (the) highest number of incidents of ‘collapse of structure (building)’ (118 cases), which accounted for 50% and 55.8% injured and deaths respectively among 53 mega cities,” data from India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2013 states. In 2016, the Mumbai municipal authority issued notices to 737 buildings that were listed as dangerous and susceptible to collapse.

The new tool could be helpful in evacuating residents and saving them from a building that is on the verge of collapse. Apart from this, the tool can also be used to avert landslides. The recent downpour in Kerala has resulted in multiple landslides and the loss of lives. The tool can be of significant help under such circumstances.

“We can now predict when a rubbish landfill might break in a developing country, when a building will crack or the foundation will move, when a dam could break or a mudslide occur. This software could really make a difference,” Tordesillas said, Xinhua reported.

Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius