Google Updates Public Alerts for 2015 Hurricane Season

Like it has done for the past 10 years, Google will deliver information to help people track dangerous storms.


Google has tweaked its weather forecasts and public alerts in Google Search to help people track storms and dangerous weather during this year's hurricane season.

People searching for information on storms and tornados in their particular area via Google will now get detailed alerts and safety recommendations depending on the severity of the storm and how close it might be at a particular moment.

Users will be able to pull up a map of their location in relation to an incoming threat. Google will use weather and forecast data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to generate sophisticated visualizations of the storm and its forecasted track, wind severity and estimated arrival time at their location.

Using data feeds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Google will give searchers updates on a storm's intensity and arrival time.

Google's warnings and recommendations will vary depending on how close or far away a storm system might be when a user is looking for that information. With a storm that might still be days away from a specific location, Google might simply generate a map of the event and offer some high-level recommendations on preparing an emergency kit. With a storm that is closer or imminent, Google might offer information on evacuation routes and how to avoid getting injured by fast moving water and flying debris.

"The safety recommendations you receive will be tailored to reflect the current status of the event and your context," Pete Giencke, a GIS data engineer at Google, wrote in a blog post announcing the search updates.

Google first began delivering special weather-related alerts and information via Google Search in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. Using information from multiple sources and organizations, Google employees worked to display satellite imagery of areas affected by the storm in Google Earth and to build searchable databases to help people displaced by the storm to locate each other.

Over the years, such measures have become part of a standard set of actions that Google's Crisis Response Team takes during and immediately after a natural disaster, Giencke said.

Typical measures include creating a resource page with emergency information, launching a Person Finder database to connect families and friends, and creating a Crisis Map with crowdsourced information as well as information culled from official government sources.

Google has also developed a slew of tools for crisis responders. Google's Public Alerts platform, for instance, gives responders a platform for disseminating emergency alerts in a standard format. The company offers resources to help organizations get their alerts into the required Common Alerting Protocol standard for dissemination purposes.

Similarly, with Google Crisis Map, responders can put disaster-related geographic data in context within a map-based viewer and embed it in on their Website or share with others. Responders can also quickly create custom Google Maps highlighting information such as road closures, debris fields and emergency relief stations using Google Maps Engine.

Over the years, such tools have contributed to relief and recovery efforts in many areas around the world, according to Google. As an example, following heavy flooding in Uttarakhand, India, in 2013, Google worked with responders to launch maps showing the locations of relief camps and medical centers. Similarly, after a devastating set of tornadoes in Oklahoma also in 2013, Google's Crisis Response team created a crisis map showing Red Cross shelters, traffic alerts, road closures and other data.

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.