We've all seen the Google Street View car driving around before and we've definitely all used the feature to get a first-person view of a place before we go or if we can't travel there. Google has taken its cameras around the world -- from under the sea to remote places, from historical landmarks to hiking trails. All that has been great for capturing the world and letting anyone anywhere explore from their computer, but collecting all those images can solve some real-world problems too.
The Seismic Society of America wrote about how Google Street View can help areas affected by earthquakes discover and catalog the damages that occurred. A group of seismologists used the technology to discover the impact of the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake in the Italian Abruzzi Mountains, that was a magnitude 6.3.
The society says, "In 2011 Klaus-G. Hinzen, a seismologist with Cologne University in Germany, and colleagues from Italy conducted a field survey, taking 3D laser scans to document earthquake rotated objects. Later Hinzen used Google Earth software to map the exact locations of numerous photos of damaged constructions and when consulting Google street views, discovered the scans had been taken less than one year before the earthquake, providing an unexpected opportunity to compare the locations captured by the 2011 photos with Google street view scans.Google Earth's aerial views have helped capture an overview of damage to L'Aquila and specific collapsed structures. But the Google street views show the details – fractures, plaster breaks and collapsed walls. The scans help identify the damage caused by the quake rather than a lack of building maintenance or disrepair."
The society sees Google Street View as a new tool in helping assess damage after future earthquakes and it's easy to imagine that it would be helpful in surveying damage from other natural disasters like hurricanes and wild fires.