Getting emergency information to the public is hard work.
Really hard work.
Which is why it’s exciting to hear that Google are seeking to assist with this task.
If you’re going to have a web-based system, then Google is probably the organisation you’d like to use to provide it… right?
While organisations generally need to have their own protocols or systems in place to deal with its own staff, there are existing “warning and informing” systems. Examples include:
- In the UK: the BBC’s brilliant Connecting in a Crisis service has been in place since 2005. It offers a valuable regional and local emergency broadcasting service. Local authorities, schools, public bodies and businesses have the chance to connect with the BBC before a crisis so that, if/when one occurs, everyone already has an understanding of how the 40 local BBC radio stations and 54 local BBC websites can assist with public service information. Rumours of the service being curtailed with BBC cuts have circulated but, with the BBC being asked to reconsider plans to reduce local activity, there’s every hope these arrangements may continue.
- In the US: there are various regional systems: for example, Washington DC has Capitalert. An sms-based service, it works when individuals sign up to receive text messages for specific categories of incident. The categories include weather alerts, school closures and major incident alerts. Similarly, New York has NY-Alert, which works in much the same way, and there are other systems in other states.
- In Canada: Alberta has an Emergency Public Warning system which gives local authorities immediate access to warn the public about emergencies. It was created after the 1987 Edmonton tornado.
All of these systems have their uses and definite pros. But, much in the same way that most people know (or make it a priority to find out) the emergency phone numbers in each country they visit – for example, 999 in the UK, 911 in the US, 000 in Australia, 111 in New Zealand – a universal system of warning and informing could be really useful.
So is Google the answer?
Google Public Alerts is part of the Google Crisis Response project; an effort “to make critical information more accessible around natural disasters and humanitarian crises“. They organise emergency alerts, news updates and even donation opportunities, by leveraging their existing systems – like Google Maps – and building new ones to assist this effort.
By using the systems that people already use they hope that they can be useful. If we look to the services bullet pointed above, they are most useful because they use existing platforms that are used by the public every day (radio, television and text messages). So it makes sense that Google could add to the information pool.
It’s already online in the US, currently just with information from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Weather Service and the US Geological Survey.
Google is clear that it’s starting with US-based alerts before it moves on to the international community. However, they’ve already opened a portal whereby you can ask that they include your alerts in their system. You just need to complete a Public Alerts Partner Interest Form.
It will be interesting to keep an eye on this one, and see where it goes.
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