When disasters strike, Google plays key role in risk reduction
MANILA, Philippines—In any disaster, among the most important needs of people is information that is reliable, accurate and easily accessible.
Google has created a set of tools under the Google Crisis Response project, which allows for the gathering and dissemination of critical information that can be used by citizens and government agencies.
The tools Google Person Finder, Crisis Map, and Public Alerts were demonstrated before government agencies, relief groups, media, and non-government organizations during the Google Crisis Response workshop organized by Google Philippines Wednesday.
The tools are free and can be accessed on desktop computers and smartphones on https://www.google.org/crisisresponse/
“We know people are coming to Google looking for information (during disasters) and we really want to help them connect with the information that matters (coming) from the people that have it,” Pete Giencke, Google Data Engineer, said in an interview with INQUIRER.net.
Google Crisis Map allows for the gathering of data from all over the Internet, such as the location of all health centers in a given area, and displaying it in a single map.
“Google Crisis Map is designed to take data across the web and put that together in a map in a single place. Instead of just a map of where the typhoon is, it’s a map of the typhoon but it’s also the road conditions, the shelters, traffic speed, etc.,” Giencke said.
The map will allow users to be informed on many aspects of a disaster such as whether it would affect them, where they will need to go in case of evacuation, etc. and Google itself publishes the crisis map when disasters happen anywhere in the world, he said.
“The rest of the community can also use the tool to create [maps] that they can use to get the critical geographical information to the [people] that they care about,” Giencke said.
The map also has a feature where netizens can give feedback about information on the map such as whether a certain shelter indicated in the map has enough beds for evacuees or where water and other supplies are available.
The feedback or commenting feature ensures that the data on the crisis map is “up to date and accurate which can then be shared back to the community and to the authoritative agencies as well,” Giencke said.
“We have responded to over 60 events since 2010 and for almost every one of those, the crisis map has been a core part of the response through finding the people that have that data [on the ground], be it official organizations or community efforts, and putting that on a map,” he said.
Google Person Finder, which was developed during the first day after the Haiti Earthquake, allows for a centralized database of names for people to find lost relatives or give information on people they have found.
“The community can share records of missing persons more effectively instead of going to 13 different website. During Typhoon “Yolanda,” there was 60,000 records of missing persons and we worked with a number of organizations across the Philippines for that,” Giancke said.
Google Public Alerts uses information provided by national government agencies, such as the US Geological Survey and Japan Meteorogical Agency, in disseminating alerts to users online.
Given the online nature of the tools, Google has also created an offline feature for them so that they can be accessible even in areas where electricity or the internet are unavailable.
“We have seen from past responses that the Internet has been very resilient, our past worst case scenario in Haiti, the Internet never went down and it was back up to normal levels in a month,” Giencke said.
“We saw during Typhoon ‘Yolanda,’ that was the first time we’ve seen a post-apocalyptic scene in terms of power and bandwidth. It forced us to think about how to enable our tools in this disconnected and offline world,” he said.
The Google Person Finder can compile names of persons even when offline which can then be uploaded later once an internet connection is established again.
For the Crisis Map, the offline mode will enable a streamlined view of information relevant to the disaster such as the location of nearby evacuation centers, flooded roads, government agencies etc.