To help support countries’ various emergency response planning procedures around the world, Google has announced that it has launched an SOS Alerts facility within its Search and Maps tools.
The aim is to help provide as much information as possible about crises including terrorism and natural disasters as they happen, with people provided with updates from local authorities, as well as emergency phone numbers, news articles and more… all in a single place.
As a crisis starts to unfold, you might begin to see an SOS Alert appear at the top of search results when online, looking for information about the incident or location. You may also receive a notification on your mobile device, depending on how nearby the affected area you are.
Google Maps on mobile will also reveal these alerts, with a specific icon popping up on the map and a tappable card made available about the crisis, as well as helpful phone numbers and websites. Real-time updates will also be provided, focusing on the likes of traffic and transit updates, as well as road closures.
Google has worked alongside agencies and organisations to help it develop its crisis response products, including the Red Cross, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administraiton, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Other crisis response features that Google runs include Google Crisis Map, Google Person Finder and Google Public Alerts.
Writing for the official Google blog, Yossi Matias – VP of Engineering – commented: “In times of crisis, access to timely, actionable information is crucial. Working alongside trained responders and volunteers on the ground, technology plays a vital role in providing information to help keep you and loved ones safe and informed. SOS Alerts is a new set of features in Google Search and Maps to help you quickly understand what’s going on and decide what to do during a crisis.”
Speaking to the BBC, Mr Matias went on to confirm that a dedicated team has now been set up that will decide on which events warrant these SOS Alerts. If you’re viewing the event from afar, you’ll be shown less detail about the crisis in hand unless you click through for further information. If deemed appropriate, Google will also direct people to where they can make donations to charities involved in what’s going on.
Facebook also offers a similar service that lets people in the near vicinity of a crisis to inform their friends and families that they’re safe, although the company has faced criticism in the past for activating the service under inappropriate circumstances.