Google Maps is working with first responders and municipal officials around the world to help them be better prepared for natural disasters and other emergencies by using map visualizations to track problems and plan recovery scenarios.
The flexibility and potential benefits of using Google Maps when disasters strike was raised by Jay Remley, director of Google Maps for Business, in a May 19 post on the Google Enterprise Blog.
“Over the thousands of years people have lived in cities, we’ve developed sophisticated infrastructure to keep things humming,” wrote Remley. “Generally, we’ve gotten pretty good at creating safe places where people can work and live. So when it comes to running cities in the year 2014, what could go wrong? Rolling blackouts, spikes in population, and natural disasters drive home one very important point: We can’t control the unexpected. We can, however, plan for it.”
That’s where the use of Google Maps for emergency planning, preparedness and recovery can come into play for communities, disaster workers and first responders, wrote Remley. “Preparedness starts with having a game plan everyone understands and can implement quickly. Today, corporations, small businesses, and municipal governments have access to practical map solutions that can ease their day-to-day operations and help them run better. We can’t control the weather or prevent every single crisis, but we can take measures to plan for the unexpected.”
That’s the approach being used today in Brazil, where local officials are preparing for the 2014 World Cup events starting in June and the Summer Olympics in 2016, wrote Remley. Pedro Junqueira, the CEO and chief operating officer of the Center of Operations (COR) in Rio de Janeiro, “heads a team of 400 people who constantly monitor the city’s activities—while integrating the efforts of nearly 90,000 employees from 30 agencies, including the Mayor’s Office and the Municipal Guard,” wrote Remley. “With all of these different teams working together to minimize public risk, it’s crucial that communication be efficient. To gain a complete real-time picture of what’s happening, Pedro and his team are implementing maps to visualize information from various organizations and present it on a screen in the command center.”
That kind of preparation is spreading, wrote Remley. “Like Pedro, government and business leaders are tapping into the richness that real-time location data can bring to operations” as part of efforts by the American Red Cross, the Florida Power and Light Company and others.
The maps and the data they can generate allow officials to spot potential crises, alert citizens to possible dangers and keep emergencies from becoming disasters, as well as provide the public with up-to-date, critical information, such as evacuation plans, road closures and shelter locations, wrote Remley. The maps can also help officials coordinate rescue and relief efforts by visualizing the up-to-date statuses of teams and volunteers, as well as to help collect the whereabouts of employees in disaster or emergency areas.
The Google Maps services are being expanded through the fall, according to Remley’s post, with additional capabilities aimed at emergency response efforts.
Google is often working to improve its Google Maps offerings. In March 2014, Google added a one-stop source for maps with its new Google Maps Gallery, where everything, from historical maps to maps of school districts and more, is being assembled to help users find just the information they are seeking.
Google Touts Google Maps’ Role in Emergency Preparedness
The Maps Gallery is like an interactive, digital atlas, giving users the ability to explore historic city plans, climate trends, housing affordability, shipwrecks and up-to-date evacuation routes. The range of available maps through the gallery so far includes maps from the National Geographic Society, World Bank Group, United States Geological Survey, Florida Emergency Management and the City of Edmonton.
Also in March, Google unveiled a new Google Maps Embed API that aims to make it easier for Website designers to place detailed Google Maps into Web pages so that customers can locate their physical locations more easily. The new API improves on a previous move by Google in December 2013, when the search giant began allowing Website owners and bloggers to embed and use Google Maps images for free. Using the new Google Maps Embed API, developers can now more easily customize the location and appearance of a map with a handful of simple URL parameters, according to a previous eWEEK report.
In February 2014, the latest updated version of the online Google Maps service was completed and rolled out to users, featuring a wide assortment of improvements and updates. Google had unveiled a series of innovative updates for Google Maps at its annual Google I/O developers conference in May 2013, including a more interactive look and feel for Maps.
The new Google Maps takes a novel approach to how people use online and mobile maps. Maps gains the ability to respond to user inputs instantly, making recommendations on places to visit and highlighting information that matters most during a map inquiry. The new generation of the Maps service essentially creates maps that are unique to each user and his or her needs, based on the input from the user.