Washington: Engineers at UC (University of California) Irvine are planning to outfit the local water system with sensors that monitor pipes after earthquakes and other disasters.
The sensors will alert officials when and where pipes crack or break, hastening repair, thanks to nearly 5.7 million dollars over three years from the National Institute of Standards and Technology and several local water groups
"When an earthquake occurs and infrastructure systems fail, continued service of the water network is most critical," said Masanobu Shinozuka, lead project investigator and civil and environmental engineering chair.
"Before anything happens, I`d like to have a pipe monitoring system in place to let us know when and where damage occurs. It could minimize misery and save lives," he added.
About 240,000 water-main breaks occur per year in the US, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
For example, in December, a burst sent about 150,000 gallons of water per minute onto a busy Maryland road, stranding motorists in the icy deluge.
Water system failures are estimated to waste up to 6 billion gallons of drinking water every day.
Shinozuka and Pai Chou, electrical engineering and computer science associate professor, have created CD-sized sensing devices that attach to the surface of pressurized (drinking water) and non-pressurized (wastewater) pipes. They will detect vibration and sound changes that could indicate pipe problems.
Through antennae, the sensors will relay information wirelessly over long distances to a central location for recording, processing and diagnostic analysis.
Initially, the sensor network will cover about one square mile of the local water system. Eventually, it could encompass more than 10 square miles - the largest of its kind to date.
A small-scale pressurised water pipe network designed and built by UCI researchers has confirmed that this type of damage identification works well.
The research team now is designing a system that functions underground as well as over a larger area.
As the research progresses, the team plans to develop methods of rapidly repairing pipe damage at joints and other vulnerable locations.