Google Street View Documenting Japan's Nuke Evacuation Area

By Todd R. Weiss  |  Posted 2013-03-09

Google Street View Documenting Japan's Nuke Evacuation Area

A Google Street View team is in Japan for the two-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami, taking stark photographs of a city about 12 miles from the heavily damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, which spread its radiation across a wide area.

The photography project is being conducted in Namie, Japan, a city of about 21,000 people, which remains a ghost town since it was evacuated after the earthquake and tsunami, said Deanna Yick, a Google spokesperson.

"Our team has been helping to map the damage as well as the recovery," including previous Street Maps excursions that mapped the carnage from the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and the deadly tsunami that followed, which killed more than 16,000 people and left another 2,900 missing, Yick said. "We have taken the Street View cars in on many occasions in conjunction with local officials."

An early Street View project came in December 2011 when Google created a special "Build The Memory" Website to document photographs of the devastation and the areas as they were before the carnage. Those photos were collected beginning in July 2011 along more than 27,000 miles across affected regions of Japan.

The latest Street View project will provide photographs in areas that have been generally off limits due to the dangerous radiation that was released from the damaged nuclear plant, Yick said

"The team will be there for a couple of weeks," and is following strict health and safety guidelines so that they can take the images safely without exposing themselves to dangerous levels of radiation. The team is keeping detailed logs of the time spent in the area and is being screened daily for radiation exposure and other factors, in conjunction with local officials, she said.

The idea for the latest project is to carefully document the remains of the city of Namie "so that people around the world can learn what happened and can keep that alive for people of future generations," said Yick. The project also is providing a digital archive to show what residents there have endured and what was there prior to the devastation.

The images being taken now will be added to the "Build the Memory" Website where previous images are already on view, she said. The site is in Japanese, but can be viewed using Google Chrome to get basic translation into English or other languages.

A March 4 post about the project on the Google Blog in Japan includes a message from the mayor of Namie, explaining that he asked for help from the Google Street View team so that people around the world could see what happened there. (View the blog post using translation services, since it is only in Japanese.)

Google Street View Documenting Japan's Nuke Evacuation Area

In a related move, Google has announced that it now offers Google Public Alerts in Japan to help with emergency preparedness due to the ongoing risks of earthquakes and tsunamis in the region.

"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," Yu Chen, partner technology manager at Google Maps, wrote in a March 6 post on the Google Maps Blog. "And from our own research, we know that when a disaster strikes, people turn to the Internet for more information about what is happening."

The new Google public alerts service in Japan is the first such offering outside the United States, where Google has been offering alerts since January 2012. The alerts aim to provide accurate and relevant emergency notifications when and where people are searching for information 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," the post explained. "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."

Users in Japan will also be able to access the alerts on their mobile devices when they use Google Now on their Android devices.

The Japan alerts are being created in conjunction with the Japan Meteorological Agency, which provides critical real-time data to alert the public, the post said.

"We hope our technology, including Public Alerts, will help people better prepare for future crises and create more far-reaching support for crisis recovery," wrote Yu Chen. "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."

Google is planning to expand its Google Public Alerts to additional countries around the world in the future.

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