Public Alerts for Google Search, Google Now and Google Maps available in Japan

With nearly 5,000 earthquakes a year, it’s important for people in Japan to have crisis preparedness and response information available at their fingertips. And from our own research, we know that when a disaster strikes, people turn to the Internet for more information about what is happening.

With this in mind, we’re launching Google Public Alerts today in Japan—the first international expansion of a service we debuted last year in the United States. Google Public Alerts is a platform designed to provide accurate and relevant emergency alerts when and where you’re searching for them online.

Relevant earthquake and tsunami warnings for Japan will now appear on Google Search, Google Maps and Google Now when you search online during a time of crisis. If a major earthquake alert is issued in Kanagawa Prefecture, for example, the alert information will appear on your desktop and mobile screens when you search for relevant information on Google Search and Google Maps.

Example of a Google Search result on a tablet showing a tsunami warning

Example of a tsunami warning on Google Maps

If you click “詳細” (“More info”) right under the alert, you’ll see more details about the announcement, including the full description from the Japan Meteorological Agency, a link to their site, and other useful information like observed arrival times and wave heights for tsunamis.

Example of how a tsunami alert would work in Fukushima

And when you open Google Now on your Android device, recommended actions and information will be tailored to where you are. For example, if you happen to be in Tokyo at a time when a tsunami alert is issued, Google Now will show you a card containing information about the tsunami alert, as well as any available evacuation instructions:

Example of a tsunami warning card on Google Now

We’re able to provide Public Alerts in Japan thanks to the Japan Meteorological Agency, whose publication of data enables Google and others to make critical and life-saving information more widely available.

We hope our technology, including Public Alerts, will help people better prepare for future crises and create more far-reaching support for crisis recovery. This is why in Japan, Google has newly partnered with 14 Japanese prefectures and cities, including seven from the Tōhoku region, to make their government data available online and more easily accessible to users, both during a time of crisis and after. The devastating Tōhoku Earthquake struck Japan only two years ago, and the region is still slowly recovering from the tragedy.

We look forward to expanding Google Public Alerts to more countries and working with more warning providers soon. We also encourage potential partners to read our FAQ and to consider putting data in an open format, such as the Common Alerting Protocol. To learn more about Public Alerts, visit our Public Alerts homepage.

Responding to the severe flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia

The Google Crisis Response team has assembled a resource page to help track affected areas and provide updated emergency information for the millions affected by flooding in Jakarta. We also have a mobile page with emergency contact numbers and lists of shelters, and enhanced search results on to provide information directly when people search. We’ve also included this information in our FreeZone service to reach affected users on feature phones.

On both the page and map, which are available in English and Bahasa Indonesia, you'll see an update on flood locations and related data such as traffic conditions in areas affected by the flooding.

To share the page or embed these maps on your own site, click "Share" at the top of the page.

We’ll update the content as more information becomes available.

Public Alerts on Google Search and Maps for Android for superstorm Sandy preparedness information

Earlier today we posted about efforts to provide information to those affected by the former hurricane and now superstorm Sandy.

We also want to let you know that Public Alerts are now available on Google Search & Maps in your browser, on Google Maps for Android and also on Google Now for Android devices running Jellybean.

Public Alerts provide warnings for natural disasters and emergency situations. They appear based on targeted Google searches, such as [Superstorm Sandy], or with location-based search queries like [New York]. In addition to the alert, you’ll also see relevant response information, such as evacuation routes, crisis maps or shelter locations.

We were planning on announcing the new features in a few days, but wanted to get them out as soon as possible so they can be helpful to people during this time.

This is part of our continuing mission to bring emergency information to people when and where it is relevant. Public Alerts are primarily available in English for the U.S., but we are working with data providers across the world to expand their reach.

If you are searching for superstorm Sandy, you’ll see content at the top of the Search page specific to this crisis. For other searches, you’ll see public alerts where and when they are live.

Public Alerts on desktop search

Public Alerts on mobile

Desktop search showing content for Sandy-related query

We’re able to gather relevant emergency safety information thanks to a strong network of partners, including NOAA and USGS. Their commitment to open standards like the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is what makes this all possible. We’ve also developed partnerships to bring you even more relevant alerts in the future, including local emergency data from Nixle.

To learn more about Public Alerts, visit our Public Alerts homepage. If you’re a data provider, and would like to contribute to our efforts, please see our FAQ.

We hope that this information makes it easier for you to stay safe.

New Crisis Response maps feature preparedness information for Hurricane Sandy

Already responsible for a reported 41 deaths across the Caribbean, late-season Hurricane Sandy is expected to make landfall again early this week on the East Coast of the United States.

Some are calling the hurricane “Frankenstorm” due to its potential mix of both winter and tropical cyclone weather. Regardless of what you call it, we hope that you get the information you need to make preparations and stay safe if you are in the area. It has the potential to be one of the worst storms the area has seen in decades.

The Google Crisis Response team has assembled a Hurricane Sandy map to help you track the storm’s progress and provide updated emergency information.


On the map, you’ll find the following emergency preparedness information:
We’ve also launched a map specific to New York City, featuring evacuation zone information from NYC Open Data, open shelters, weather information and live webcams.

You can easily share and embed these maps on your website — just hit the “Share” button at the top of the map to get the HTML code. We’ll continue to update these maps as more information becomes available.

Posted by Ka-Ping Yee, Software Engineer, Google Crisis Response

(Cross-posted on the blog)

Big Tent Sendai: Smarter ways to share information in a crisis

As we’ve seen in the last decade, information technology can save lives in a crisis. But even as data becomes more crucial to rescue efforts, key information like evacuation routes, shelter locations and weather alerts often remains inaccessible to the public. Time is of the essence in the wake of a disaster, and it's critical for emergency information to be available in open standards and formats to enable instant communication among first responders and affected populations.

This was the theme of our first Big Tent in Asia, held yesterday in Sendai, Japan. The event brought together tech industry leaders, non-profits, volunteers and government officials to discuss how technology can better assist in preparing for, responding to and rebuilding from disasters. This is an extremely pertinent issue for the Asia-Pacific region, as nearly 70 percent of fatalities from natural disasters occur here. And with the earthquake and tsunami last year affecting the coastal regions of Northeastern Japan, Sendai was a particularly meaningful location to discuss new ways that technology can aid the efforts of responders to reduce the impact and cost of disasters.

During the panels, the audience heard stories about how two Pakistani volunteers mapped their home country so well through Google MapMaker that the UN’s mapping agency UNOSAT adopted the maps and provided them to aid workers during the Pakistan floods. Sam Johnson, Founder of the Christchurch Student Army and Young New Zealander of the Year, talked about using Facebook to quickly coordinate relief efforts on the ground after the earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010 and 2011. Twitter Japan Country Manager James Kondo talked about Japanese earthquake victims tweeting with the hashtag “stranded” in order to find help. Meanwhile representatives of open source project Ushahidi talked of “brainsourcing” reporters on the ground and remote volunteers to keep the world abreast of conditions in disasters such as the earthquake in Chile in 2010.

After the panels, conversations and debates, four key themes emerged. First, there is a conflict between traditional closed data architectures and emerging open models—and we need to close the gap between them. Second, we need to find complementary ways to embrace both authoritative data from official sources and crowdsourced data. Third, there’s a universal need for data, but they way it’s shared needs to be tailored to the local environment—for example, Internet-reliant countries vs. SMS-reliant countries. Finally, we were reminded that beyond the data itself, communication and collaboration are key in a crisis. Information isn’t worth anything unless people are taking that information, adapting it, consulting it and getting it to the people who need it.

One of the panels at Big Tent Sendai

Crisis response tools will continue to improve and more people across the globe will own devices to quickly access the information they need. But there are still major challenges we must address. As Margareta Wahlström, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction said, we can now get quick warnings and alerts to many populations on their phones, but many who receive the alerts don’t know how to act.

To see clips from Sendai and previous events, visit the Big Tent YouTube channel, where you can also join in the debate via comments, get more information on the presenters and see how different communities approach many of the same issues. We’ll hold more Big Tents in Asia soon, so please check back on our website to learn more.

Using technology in crisis preparedness

(Cross-posted from the Blog)

In many ways, the arrival of Hurricane Irene last week drove home the importance of National Preparedness Month, an effort from the FEMA Ready campaign to encourage Americans to take steps to prepare for emergencies throughout the year. With people relying on the Internet worldwide, it’s not surprising that Google search data and a recently released American Red Cross survey show that people turn to online resources and tools for information and communication during major crises. First responders, who provide services in the aftermath of disasters, are also finding Internet and cloud-based tools and information useful—for improving their understanding of a situation, collaborating with each other and communicating with the public.

Today, in preparation for September’s National Preparedness Month, our Crisis Response team is introducing a new Google Crisis Preparedness website with information and educational tools on using technology to prepare for crises. On the site, you can see how individuals and organizations have used technology during crises in the past, including how two girls located their grandfather after the Japan earthquake and tsunami in March of this year and how Americorps tracked volunteers during the tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri in May of this year. There’s a section for responders with information on using Google tools in crises, such as collaborating efficiently using Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Sites, visualizing the disaster-related information with Google My Maps and Google Earth, and more.

Also, you can access a new public preparedness web resource launching today: Get Tech Ready, developed as a collaboration between FEMA, the American Red Cross, the Ad Council and Google Crisis Response. There, you’ll find tips on using technology to prepare for, adapt to and recover from disasters, for example:
  • Learn how to send updates via text and internet from your mobile phone in case voice communications are not available
  • Store your important documents in the cloud so they can be accessed from anywhere or in a secure and remote area such as a flash or jump drive that you can keep readily available
  • Create an Emergency Information Document using this Emergency Plan Google Docs Template, or by downloading it to record and share your emergency plans and access them from anywhere
We encourage you to take a moment now to see how simple, easy-to-use and readily-available technology tools can help you prepare for a crisis. You’ll be more comfortable using these tools in the event of a disaster if you’ve already tried them out—and even integrated them into your daily life.

Hacking for humanity in Silicon Valley and around the globe

(Cross-posted on the Code Blog and Blog)

Two years ago representatives from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Hewlett-Packard, NASA and the World Bank came together to form the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) program. The idea was simple: technology can and should be used for good. RHoK brings together subject matter experts, volunteer software developers and designers to create open source and technology agnostic software solutions that address challenges facing humanity. On June 4-5, 2011 we’ll hold the third Random Hacks of Kindness global event at five U.S. locations and 13 international sites, giving local developer communities the opportunity to collaborate on problems in person.

The RHoK community has already developed some applications focused on crisis response such as I’mOK, a mobile messaging application for disaster response that was used on the ground in Haiti and Chile; and CHASM, a visual tool to map landslide risk currently being piloted by the World Bank in landslide affected areas in the Caribbean. Person Finder, a tool created by Google’s crisis response team to help people find friends and loved ones after a natural disaster, was also refined at RHoK events and effectively deployed in Haiti, Chile and Japan.

We’re inviting all developers, designers and anyone else who wants to help “hack for humanity,” to attend one of the local events on June 4-5. There, you’ll meet other open source developers, work with experts in disaster and climate issues and contribute code to exciting projects that make a difference. If you’re in Northern California, come join us at the Silicon Valley RHoK event at Google headquarters.

And if you’re part of an organization that works in the fields of crisis response or climate change, you can submit a problem definition online, so that developers and volunteers can work on developing technology to address the challenge.

Visit for more information and to sign up for your local event, and get set to put your hacking skills to good use.

Messages for Japan

One month ago, a massive 9.0 earthquake and one of the worst tsunamis in history struck northeastern Japan. Many people in the most impacted areas still have immediate needs for shelter and supplies, and we’re continuing to help by maintaining the Crisis Response page and building tools and resources related to the disaster.

Since the crisis, people around the world have sent countless messages of hope and support to the people of Japan. Some of them showed sympathy for the victims. Others encouraged us to look forward. Reading these messages—many of them in English—you can’t help but feel the support coming from around the world. But we wished more people in Japan could hear from these supporters and feel that same sense of hope—even if the senders spoke another language.

So we had an idea: a site where people around the world could input messages for Japan in their own languages and have them automatically translated into Japanese while raising funds to help Japan. And today, we’re pleased to share On the site, you can submit messages and have them automatically translated to Japanese by Google Translate. Of course, people who speak Japanese can also post messages in Japanese if they’d like. You can see messages on the world map, browse them in their original language or in Japanese and donate to the rebuilding effort. We’re planning to deliver some of these messages to people in Japan via offline media as well.

In 1995, I was a volunteer in the disaster area following the Great Hanshin Earthquake in Kobe, Japan. After the craziness of first few weeks, I realized just how long it takes to recover from a disaster, and how important is it to rebuild not just the affected cities and towns but also people’s spirits. With this recent crisis, there’s no doubt that we have a long way to go. We hope that these messages from around the world will provide inspiration to the people of Japan as we face this challenge, and that the donations raised through this site and others will help the country on its road to rebuilding.

A final note: Donations raised via the Crisis Response page have exceeded five million dollars so far. We truly appreciate your contributions and thank you for your continued support.

Update April 13, 2011: Updated the YouTube video to correct a bug in how Arabic was displayed.

Google Crisis Response: a small team tackling big problems

This is the latest post in our series profiling entrepreneurial Googlers working on products across the company and around the world. Speed in execution is important for any Google product team, but as we learned after the recent earthquakes in both Japan and New Zealand, it’s even more critical in crisis response. This post is an inside look at the efforts of our year-old Crisis Response team, and what they’re doing to make preparedness tools available to anyone at the click of a button. - Ed.

The Google Crisis Response Team came together in 2010 after a few engineers and I realized that we needed a scalable way to make disaster-related information immediately available and useful in a crisis. Until a little over a year ago, we responded to crises with scattered 20 percent time projects, but after the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 we saw the opportunity to create a full-time team that would make critical information more accessible during disaster situations.

For us to help during a crisis, it’s vital to get things done really quickly, and we’ve been able to do that as a small team within Google. Working from a standard already developed by one of the Google engineers, Person Finder was built and launched in 72 hours after the Haitian earthquake, and it launched within three hours after the New Zealand earthquake in February. Unfortunately, there have been an unusually high number of disasters over the last year, forcing us to learn and get even faster.

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 started organizing 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. I was inspired by my colleagues’ ability to launch tools about an 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.

But we’re eager to find other ways of helping. In addition to these efforts focused on specific situations, we’ve worked hard this past year 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 our view, it’s already too late. In these situations, it’s incredibly important that things happen fast.

So in addition to building products, we collaborate 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.

New imagery of Japan after the earthquake

(Cross-posted from the Lat Long Blog)

It’s now the third week after the devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake that struck northeastern Japan. Aid organizations have been hard at work and cities are starting to show signs of recovery, but the damage is beyond imagination and there are still thousands of people at shelters grappling with daily challenges. As a native of Sendai city, I’m still speechless seeing the destruction and damage that has been done to the places I love and care about.

We’ve been looking for ways we can assist in the relief efforts using Google’s map-related tools. A few days after the quake, we published updated satellite imagery of northeast Japan in Google Maps and Google Earth, which illustrated the massive scale of devastation in the affected areas.

Today, we’ve published imagery of the Sendai region at even higher resolution, which we collected on Sunday and Monday. The new Sendai imagery, along with satellite imagery from throughout the area, is now live in the base imagery layer of Google Earth and will soon be visible in Google Maps. We hope to continue collecting updated images and publishing them as soon as they are ready.

We hope our effort to deliver up-to-date imagery provides the relief organizations and volunteers working around the clock with the data they need to better understand the current conditions on the ground. We also hope these tools help our millions of users—both those in Japan and those closely watching and sending their support from all over the globe—to find useful information about the affected areas.

A riverside neighborhood in Sendai from our newly released imagery