Google Launches Person Finder Tool for Nepal Earthquake Victims

People in Nepal, India and the U.S. can submit searches for a missing person via the Web app or an SMS text message.

Google Person Finder

Google has launched its Person Finder Web app to help people report on or locate family members and others affected by the massive earthquake in Nepal over the weekend.

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake is believed to have killed thousands of people and caused enormous destruction in the tiny Himalayan kingdom. Among those killed in the disaster was Google X Privacy Director Dan Fredinburg, who was caught in an avalanche triggered by the earthquake while attempting to climb Mount Everest.

Payal Patel, product manager of Google Crisis Response, said Google has launched Person Finder in English, Nepali and Hindi and plans to incorporate support for other languages soon.

Person Finder offers an "I'm looking for someone" option that lets people submit information about a missing person into the application, while an "I have information about someone" option lets people put in their own names and details to let others know they are safe.

Google has also made the search function of Person Finder available via Short Message Service (SMS) in Nepal, India and the United States. In Nepal, people searching for a missing person can send an SMS to 6040 with the text message "search <name>." In India, SMS text must be sent to +91-9773300000, while in the United States the number is +1-650-800-3978.

In addition, Google has published HTML code for organizations wishing to embed the Person Finder tool into their own Websites. The company is currently working on delivering updated satellite images of impacted areas and possible evacuation routes to help rescuers in the recovery effort, Patel said. "And is committing $1 million to the response, with up to an additional $250,000 in employee gift-matching from Google," she added.

Google first launched Person Finder following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010. The Web application accepts data from multiple registries using an XML-based common data exchange format called the People Finder Interchange Format (PFIF) that was developed by volunteers who participated in finding victims affected by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

It is one of several tools that the company's crisis response team uses to analyze the impact of major natural disasters and then determine which of its tools are most useful for responding to a particular situation, according to a Google description of the tool.

All data entered into Google Person Finder is publicly available and searchable by anyone, Google said. The company does not verify or vet any data that is input into the Web app. However, Google does require users who are creating a record to enter an expiration date for that data. According to Google, the company typically takes down Person Finder "several months" after a crisis has subsided, essentially erasing all records associated with that disaster in the process.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.