An earthquakes strikes, toppling buildings. How do residents know where to go next? What areas are safest?

A new software uses Google Maps could tell people within seconds which buildings are still standing where the safest areas are to seek shelter.

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The software prototype is the brainchild of David Kane, a computer engineering student at the University of Abertay Dundee in Scotland. It works by using an existing infrastructure, home broadband routers, to check on addresses in a given area. Once those locations are pinged, they're converted to longitude and latitude values that are shown in Google Maps. The resulting visual map would show disaster areas in real time.

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Currently the software would only work with routers where the home or building owner has supplied an address. However, if Internet Service Providers support the system, the whole thing could be automated, according to Kane.

"I wanted to prove if it was possible to use an ordinary piece of technology we all have — a home broadband router — to map natural disasters in real-time," he said in a University of Abertay Dundee article about the work.

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Although the software is still an undergrad project that hasn't quite been perfected, Kane said he plans to publicly release the open-source code following his participation in the university's digital graduate show, which ends this weekend. That way the larger computing community can put the code directly into existing disaster management systems and improve on it.

This software reminds me of a proposal to ping cell phones in areas evacuated when a hurricane approaches. That way the authorities can locate the stragglers and get them to safety. Once a disaster has occurred, though, it's vital to get accurate maps to the responders. A little pinging could make a huge impact.