Technology World — 06 April 2011
How Google helped with the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster

How Google helped with the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster

Within minutes of hearing about the 9.0 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Japan in March, Googlers around the world — from engineers to webmasters to product managers — immediately began putting together a Google Crisis Response resource page with disaster-related information such as maps and satellite imagery, Person Finder and news updates and citizen videos on YouTube. In Japan, Person Finder went live within an hour of the earthquake. More than 600,000 contact entries have been made since then — more than all other disasters combined — and there have been several reports of people finding their loved ones safe. Google’s experts were able to create and launch these tools about one hour after the earthquake struck; the Tokyo office, in particular, has really been helping to drive the rapid response and provided real-time information to teams across the globe, even while aftershocks were rocking the city and buildings were still swaying.

And Google found other ways of helping, too. In addition to these efforts focused on specific situations, they have worked hard to more broadly organize the information most helpful during crisis situations and make it possible for people to use that data in near real-time. If people are asking for information, then in Google’s view, it’s already too late. In these situations, it’s incredibly important that things happen fast.

So in addition to building products, they have been collaborating with many incredible organizations to make technology useful for responding to a crisis. For example, Random Hacks of Kindness is a collaboration between technology companies and government organizations which encourages teams around the world to create software solutions to problems that arise during a crisis. Recent “RHoKstars” have created all sorts of useful tools—from HeightCatcher, which helps identify malnourishment of children in relief camps by accurately assessing height and weight through a mobile device, to new features for Person Finder, such as email notifications, automatic translation and phonetic name matching—which have all been extremely useful in Japan. These projects present a real opportunity to improve lives by employing crowd-sourcing technology and real-time data during a crisis.

The sheer number of major natural disasters in 2010 and early 2011 demonstrates just how important it is for those involved in relief efforts to have real-time access to information no matter where they are. The Google Crisis Response team has worked over the past year to develop open source initiatives that encourage collaboration with larger crisis response efforts, including relief organizations, NGOs and individual volunteers. And although we’re a small team and still relatively new to the crisis response ecosystem, we hope the resources and support we receive from Google and our community partners around the world will make a difference in preparedness efforts.

The Googlers also helped out after the Haiti and New Zealand earthquakes, and with each unfortunate disaster, the Google Crisis-Response team’s response has been faster and more sophisiticated. A big thank you to Mr Prem Ramaswami, Product Manager, Google Crisis Response Team for the story, which was published on the Official Google Blog today.

To view the actual Google Crisis Response Page, click the link here: http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/

 

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About Author

David Harvey, Editor

David Harvey left school at 17 and went straight into newspapers as a cadet reporter. (He also a keen photographer and learned both trades.) He worked as a photojournalist in Hong Kong and as a war correspondent in Vietnam during the war. He moved to Australia in the late 1970s and got involved in I.T. during the mid-80s. This website is his latest venture here, combining news-gathering with the power of the internet. See: news-reporter

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