Applying IoT technology to safety: Avalanche warnings

Planet Analog

June 16, 2017

Planet AnalogJune 16, 2017

Every year many natural events like snow avalanches put all people who are living in mountain localities at risk. This includes tourists and winter sports enthusiasts: What would happen if an automatic test mountain station could detect the presence of avalanches and advise and warn the people present in the area under test in real time? Such a system may save many lives by sending the alarm signal automatically by means of a WSN (wireless sensors network) realized by means of the IoT (Internet of Things), in this emerging field of electronics technology.

A first step in this direction has been taken by the WSL Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research SLF, (see Figure 1):

“Snow avalanches are a major natural hazard in mountainous areas in winter. Since most recreationists and many public authorities rely on avalanche bulletins for their decision making, the ability to appropriately predict the avalanche danger accurately is of paramount importance. Avalanche forecasters greatly rely on avalanche activity data to determine the avalanche hazard since recent avalanche occurrences provide unambiguous information on snow cover instability. Avalanche activity is usually estimated based on visual observations, which are incomplete and impossible at night or when visibility is limited. This often leads to uncertainties in the number and exact timing of avalanches….With the automatic avalanche detection method we can determine exactly when an avalanche released. However, information of the location of the avalanche is also of interest since avalanche danger depends on aspect and elevation. Such information would therefore be very important for avalanche forecasters. To determine the location of the avalanche, we use an array of 7 seismic sensors deployed in a circle. We can then use existing signal processing techniques, which are widely used by seismologist, to estimate the location of the avalanche. However, since signals produced by avalanches are very different compared to earthquakes, standard methods have to be improved to properly localize avalanches.” (Source:

Figure 1
The Recording station to predict and reveal snow avalanche at the Dischma Valley in Switzerland (Source:

The Recording station to predict and reveal snow avalanche at the Dischma Valley in Switzerland (Source:

The automatization of the seismic sensors is thus a key point for the success of this type of solution; an interesting example of such a kind of neural network of smart sensors realized by means of the electronics technology, is represented by a work entitled “Wireless Sensor Networking in the Internet of Things and Cloud Computing Era”, which has been presented at the EUROSENSORS 2014. It was created by two technical authors belonging to the Department of Information engineering, University of Brescia, Italy:

“WSNs are now widely diffused in many civilian application scenarios, including home and building automation, health monitoring, environment and habitat monitoring, traffic control, and many others. 

Continue reading on Embedded's sister site, Planet Analog: "Snow avalanche detectors: IoT technology applied to people safety, part 1."

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