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Leveraging Online Tools for Disaster Response

Whether your concern is local, national or global, there are numerous tools now available online to provide you with near-real-time information about events that impact your business or personal interests.

While there are specialized services available for a (usually hefty) price, this article will focus on several no-cost resources provided by Google that provide extremely valuable services. These tools and resources can be used by anyone, but have significant value for those planning for emergency events as well as those responding to them.

Google is Your Friend

Demonstrating the company’s mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, Google has not only created free applications to report and display critical event information, but also provides tools for developers to create applications specific to their needs, through Google Crisis Response, a Google.Org project.

  • Google Public Alerts– The interface familiar to most everyone that accesses the Internet is much more than it appears. Google has integrated Public Alerts, issued by government emergency response agencies, into their popular Search page. For example- if a tornado warning is issued for your area, simply open up the Google Search page, enter “tornado (your location), and the first result will be the current basic information for that alert. Clicking the link provided will take you to more detailed information issued by the appropriate agency. You’ll also see Public Alerts in Google Maps. If you’re searching Maps on desktop or mobile you’ll get alerts for that area, and if you’re using the Google Maps for Mobile app you’ll see a warning notification if there is an alert nearby.  The code and tools for Google Public Alerts (Common Alerting Protocol) is available at no charge for developers to create their own applications.
  • Google Person Finder – Following a crisis, people often get separated, and responders play a role in helping people locate one another. Google Person Finder, launched by the Google Crisis Response team, helps with this process by providing an open platform for individuals and organizations to let people know who they’re looking for and to enter updates about missing persons. As an organization you can embed Google Person Finder in your website to allow people to directly access and use the tool; download data from Google Person Finder to match with your information or take to the field; upload data you’ve collected into Google Person Finder. Again, the code for this tool is available to developers to create customized tools.
  • Google Earth – Many are familiar with this free tool, but not as many are aware of its usefulness as a response tool. One very useful feature is its incorporation of historical data, allowing the ability to view pre and post disaster imagery to aid in planning for future events.A good example of this can be demonstrated by zooming into the New Orleans area, and using the Historical Imagery slider to go back to the time of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Stepping through the available imagery one can see the extent of flooding, and how it receded over time. During the response to this event, NOAA conducted regular aerial surveys of the affected area, making them available to the various agencies involved. In turn, the imagery was also incorporated into Google Earth.Additionally, the National Weather Service provides real-time weather radar information for use in Google Earth. This data can be incorporated by simply downloading a very small “KML” file from the NWS web site, and opening it in Google Earth.

Other Google Tools

  • Google Fusion TablesPart of Google Documents: Gather, visualize and share data online with your staff and other response organizations and constituents. Use Google Fusion Tables to:
    • Visualize your data from shelter lists to power outages instantly as a map or a chart.
    • Identify data patterns to aid in crisis decision making
    • Show the world your work in real time by embedding your map or chart in a web page
    • Collaborate with other responders by merging your data, allowing you to see all important related information in one place.
  • Google Docs and Spreadsheets – Create, collaborate, and continually update critical information online from any computer at any point in time. Use Google Docs to:
    • Share and collaborate in real time with volunteers, co-workers, and partner organizations, eliminating the need to email updated attachments back and forth
    • Safely store your work where it’s not vulnerable to a damaged or left-behind laptop
    • Edit and access online, from anywhere, at any time
  • Google Sites – Easily create and update a website with critical response information from anywhere at any time. You can display a variety of important information in one place—including forms to collect information, videos of the crisis, photos of the devastation, and maps that illustrate resources. Use Google Sites to:
    • Create a simple website quickly without having to hire a web developer or know any HTML programming
    • Customize the look and feel of your site to show it’s from your organization
    • Create sub-pages to keep your content organized and easy for viewers to locate
    • Protect your information by keeping your site as private or public as you’d like

While this article focuses on the resources provided by Google, there are many others out there. Feel free to comment, and share your favorites!

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  1. September 13, 2013 at 1:31 PM

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