Google’s response to Hurricane Sandy


October 29: Android fans were looking forward to Google’s Android event in New York today, but Hurricane Sandy has apparently put that on hold.  The internet giant was expected to reveal some of its latest Nexus devices and a new Android version today, but not even the might of Google can fight a full-sized hurricane. The waterfront pier where the event was to take place has become an evacuation zone and New York is officially in a state of emergency.

While the event has been postponed, the Google Crisis Response team is on Sandy. Google Crisis Response engineers have assembled satellite and terrain maps focused on the hurricane. Crisis Response is a highly commendable, global effort by Google that works with government agencies, NGOs and commercial entities to help people find critical information: storm paths, shelter locations, emergency numbers, and donation opportunities – stuff that can make a difference between life and death.

Tracking Hurricane Sandy
Tracking Hurricane Sandy

The Sandy crisis map shows storm tracking information on a Google Maps-like layout, linking with a massive array of data organizations to display important stuff:  hurricane evacuation routes (from FEMA), Cloud imagery from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory – and even better, active emergency shelters (Red Cross tracks these) and traffic conditions (off Google’s own Maps service).  Crisis Response also integrates Google Person Finder, which helps you locate loved ones – though we hope it won’t come to this. Give how integrated Google’s services are, it’s no surprise that even Youtube streams concerning the event are tied into the complete datafeed.

New York's Evac zones
New York’s Evac zones


A word on the folks who actually do all this. The Google Crisis team apparently came together in 2010 after the Haiti earthquake crisis. Prem Ramaswami and other engineers realized there had to be a better way of getting critical information through to people. Within 72 hours of the earthquake, the first version of Google Person Finder was launched. Since then, Person Finder has been a critical tool: when the team deployed it after the March earthquake off the coast of Japan, more than 600, 000 contact entries went through the service.

There’s a separate map for New York City, marking evacuation zones and shelters. It looks like the New Yorkers are in for a really rough night.

Thumbs up, Google. 


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