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Crisis Tools for Typhoon Yolanda

Cross-posted from the Google Asia Pacific Blog

We’ve launched several tools, available on our Typhoon Yolanda crisis page, to help gather and relay information in connection with the incredible devastation that’s occurred in the Philippines.

These resources include Google Person Finder, a web application that allows individuals to post and search for the status of family or friends affected by the disaster. If you’re worried about someone, then click on “I’m Looking for Someone” and type in their name. If you want to let people know you’re safe or have heard from someone in the area, then click on “I have information about someone” and put in their names and details. As the number of names and records build, the tool will hopefully make it easier for those who are safe to pass on their news to anyone worried about them.

We’ve also made Person Finder available on mobile phones. You can request status via SMS by sending an SMS to 2662999 (Globe subscribers), 4664999 (SMART subscribers), 22020999 (Sun subscribers), or +16508003977 with the message “Search” and then the persons name. For example, if you are searching for Joshua Reyes, send the message “Search Joshua Reyes”.

Typhoon Yolanda Relief Map, below, which provides updates on shelters and other information from the disaster zone:

These tools are open to anyone to embed on their Web sites - here are instructions for embedding person finder, and you can click the “Share” button at the top of the crisis map to embed or share by email or social media.

The more people who contribute to them, the more useful they’ll be.

Update November 12: we're also providing $500,000, split between two organizations working on the ground,CARE and the Philippine Red Cross, to aid with relief efforts. If you would like to make a donation, we've provided links to these and other organizations on our crisis landing page.

Posted by Aileen Apolo, Outreach Program Manager, Google Southeast Asia

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Trial in Cape Town shows that TV White Spaces can deliver broadband access without interference

(Cross-posted from Google Africa blog)


TV White Spaces—the unused spectrum between TV channels—have the potential to bring wireless broadband access to underserved and rural areas. These low frequency signals can travel long distances and fill a need in places where telecommunications infrastructure is lacking.

Google, joined by a group of partners (CSIR Meraka InstituteTENETe-Schools NetworkWAPA, and Carlson Wireless), wanted to help make this potential a reality. In March 2013, the grouplaunched a six-month trial using TV White Spaces (TVWS) to bring broadband Internet access to 10 schools in Cape Town, South Africa. The goal of the trial was to show that TVWS could be used to deliver broadband Internet without interfering with TV broadcast.

After six months, the trial has been a success. The participating schools, which previously had slow or unreliable Internet connections, experienced high-speed broadband access for the first time. Teachers were able to use videos in their lesson plans, make Skype calls to other schools, update school websites, and send regular email updates to parents. Students could use educational videos for research. Because the service was better and faster, teachers and learners used the web to enrich the classroom experience.
Student uses high-speed Internet at one of the trial schools.

At the same time, multiple sources confirmed that there was no interference with TV broadcast. Trial partner CSIR Meraka Institute performed frequent scientific studies to measure any potential interference over the six-month period. We also provided tools for people to report any interference experience while watching TV. Both the Meraka Institute’s findings, as well as crowdsourced reporting, show that the TVWS service did not interfere with local broadcast. We’ve published thefinal results for a deeper dive on the outcomes of the trial.

ICASA, South Africa’s communication regulator, plans to use the trial outcomes as inputs into the TVWS regulatory process. This is a big step to bringing this technology to more of South Africa. We also hope the results extend far beyond this trial and can be useful in encouraging others to consider TVWS to help bring the power of the Internet to more people in more parts of the world.

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Flu Trends updates model to help estimate flu levels in the US

When people get sick, they turn to the Web for information. Back in 2008, a team at Google dug into this behavior and found that certain search terms were good indicators of flu levels. We later launched Google Flu Trends to estimate flu activity in near real-time using aggregated Google search data, in regions around the world.

At the end of every flu season, we evaluate the performance of our model. Are our estimates accurate? What worked well, or not so well? Do we need to make any updates? After the 2009 H1N1 season, for example, we updated the model to make sure we were providing accurate estimates. Since 2009, the model had performed well at the national and regional levels in the US and no update was needed.

Flu Trends can help estimate the start, peak, and duration of each flu season--all important information for public health agencies. During the 2012-2013 season in the US, the model performed well in estimating the start and duration of the season. However, the model overestimated the severity of the flu. In January 2013, after spotting the difference between our estimates and the percentage of healthcare visits for influenza-like illnesses (ILI) reported by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we started to investigate the high estimates. We found that heightened media coverage on the severity of the flu season resulted in an extended period in which users were searching for terms we’ve identified as correlated with flu levels. In early 2013, we saw more flu-related searches in the US than ever before.



We evaluated several options to improve the model. Ultimately, we determined that an update using the peak from the 2012-2013 season provided a close approximation of flu activity for recent seasons. We will be applying this update to the US flu level estimates for the 2013-2014 flu season, starting from August 1st. A casual observer will see that the new model forecasts a lower flu level than last year’s model did at a similar time in the season. We believe the new model more closely approximates CDC data.





You can check out the new model’s estimates against previous years’ flu levels in this graph:




United States: Influenza-like illness (ILI) data provided publicly by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.


For those of you who want more data and details, we presented this paper recently at the ISNTD Bites conference. 

This is an iterative process. We will keep exploring how we can build resilience to accommodate the effect of news media. In the meantime, stay healthy!

Posted by Christian Stefansen, Software Engineer

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Public Alerts and Crisis Map for Natural Disasters Now Available in Colombia

A catastrophe or natural disaster can occur when least expected. That's why the Google Crisis Response Team created Public Alerts and Crisis Map to help people better prepare for these unfortunate situations. Today, we’re launching Google Public Alerts and Crisis Map in Colombia to provide people with access to useful information before, during, and after a natural disaster such as a tropical storm, hurricane, flood or landslide.
Starting today, relevant information about extreme weather changes which threaten the safety of Colombians will appear on Google Public Alerts as well as emergency related information for impacted areas on Crisis Map. This information will also be displayed in Google Search, Google Maps, Google Maps Mobile and Google Now. 

Our goal at Google Crisis Response is to provide citizens with the critical information needed in an emergency. We’re able to provide Public Alerts and Crisis Map in Colombia thanks to the support of the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) and the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD)

Colombia is the first country in Latin America to implement the system. Public Alerts is currently available in five other countries: Australia, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, and the United States.


Google Public Alerts and Crisis Map
Google Public Alerts helps you find important weather information without even looking for it by bringing together critical alert information for weather, landslides and floods, and providing instructions for severe weather conditions and non-weather alerts such as missing persons, wildfires and earthquakes. This information is displayed on Google Maps, Google Search and Google Now when you activate it on your Android device.


Example of the Google Public Alerts global page

Google Public Alerts now provides accurate and relevant emergency alerts when and where you need them in Colombia. For example, if a red alert is issued for flooding in your area, you’ll see the alert when doing a relevant search on Google or Google Maps, either on desktop or mobile, and will have access to timely information:


Example of a Google Search result showing a red alert

You can see alert details through the ‘More information’ link.  

Colombia’s Crisis Map, shown below, provides various layers of information such as public alerts, shelters and crisis response centers in the impacted area. This is a valuable resource for people who live in or near the impacted area, and for crisis response teams who need access to reliable information.


Google Crisis Map for Colombia


The goal of Google Public Alerts and Crisis Map is to make it easier to find specific information during emergencies when people are already using Google products. Thanks to the commitment of the Colombian Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) and the National Unit for Disaster Risk Management (UNGRD), Public Alerts and Crisis Map is now available in Colombia.

By Laura Camacho, Google Colombia Country Manager

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Get the latest on the Australian fires with the Google Crisis Response map

As summer approaches, reliable and easily accessible information about where fires are burning and how to stay safe is important. That’s why we’ve launched a Google Crisis Map to show fire information across five Australian states and territories.

The Google Crisis Map shows information about current fires including their location and size the level of alert, whether the fire is under control and which local emergency response agency is responding to the crisis. Working with fire authorities across Australia, the Crisis Map is continually updated and can be accessed from any device connected to the web at google.org/crisismap/australia.

Example of a fire warning and fire incidents on the Google Crisis Map


In addition to the Crisis Map, Google Public Alerts is now also available for NSW. Google Public Alerts show you relevant fire information when looking up related terms on Google Maps or Google Search. And if you use Google Now on your Android or iOS device, it will alert you if the NSW RFS has published an extreme bushfire or fire alert nearby.

Example of a Google Now card showing a fire warning

Example of a fire warning on Google Search results

Example of a fire alert details page on mobile


We’re able to provide this Crisis Map and the Public Alerts thanks to the NSW Rural Fire Service, the Queensland Rural Fire, the ACT Emergency Services Agency, The Country Fire Service of South Australia, and the Tasmania Fire Service. The partnership and commitment of these agencies in opening this data to the public helps Google and others make critical and life-saving information more widely available.

The Google Crisis Map is now available for NSW, SA, QLD, TAS and the ACT and we’re working with authorities to make the service available in all states and territories. We also look forward to expanding Google Public Alerts and working with more local warning providers soon. We encourage potential partners to read our FAQ and to consider putting data in an open format, such as the Common Alerting Protocol. 

Media are welcome to embed the crisis map on their own sites, by following the steps outlined here.

Posted by Meryl Stone, Partnerships Manager for Google Crisis Response

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Supporting new solutions for broadband Internet access in rural markets

Sometimes, the best way to take a new idea from the research phase to the real world is to take that idea into the field.

Google.org has provided a $2 million grant to the De Novo Group to advance wireless technologies that could help bring broadband Internet access to emerging markets around the world.

De Novo Group is leading a projectcalled “Celerateto develop and deploy new wireless network designs in rural communities. Celerate’s goal is to create both a prototype design and an open source networking solution that could be replicated in emerging markets. These new technologies will be freely available for anyone to use or commercialize, creating a more affordable option for broadband access that is cheaper to deploy, operate and manage.

Celerate’s wireless network designs are based on the principles of Software-Defined Networking (SDN), which are used today in large data centers and enterprise networks. Celerate will extend this technology to rural wireless networks, with an eye toward research as well as providing real network services to users.

De Novo Group is working with researchers from Stanford University and UC Berkeley, and is now working to find a community for the first deployments (ideally, located in Northern California, close to the project team). 

Universal access is a big challenge. Today, just one in three people worldwide are connected to the Internet. This is another step forward in developing new technologies to connect more people in more parts of the world.

Posted by Jennifer Haroon, Access Principal

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Responding to Cyclone Phailin in India

Last week, India’s east coast was struck by Cyclone Phailin, a severe tropical cyclone that displaced hundreds of thousands of people in the affected region. 

Google Crisis Response published a landing page in Hindi and English with resources and information to help those affected by the cyclone. The page included a crisis map with information on the storm’s path and impact, storm shelters, hospitals, and more. We also gathered contact numbers for important resources such as local emergency operation centers and railway helplines.

Crisis Map of Cyclone Phailin
We made  Person Finder available in Hindi, Bengali, and English to help locate missing loved onesa service that proved helpful during the Uttarakhand Floods in June 2013. We make the tool available to check and post on the status of relatives or friends as long as it’s needed and valuable during a crisis. Fortunately, the rapid evacuation of so many in the affected regions have meant that most people have been accounted for and Person Finder is no longer active for this disaster.

Responding to a storm of this scale is daunting and requires the work of many, but we can all do something to help. We hope these tools provided value to those affected by Cyclone Phailin and are grateful to the partners on the ground who helped us bring information to affected regions. We will continue to work with local governments in the area to determine ways for us to contribute.

Posted by Jayanth Mysore, Senior Product Manager on behalf of Google APAC and the Google Crisis Response team

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Joining forces to advocate for a more affordable Internet

Cross-posted from the Public Policy blog

Imagine a world where you spent 30% of your monthly income on basic Internet service. Could you pay? What might you have to give up? For billions of people, these costs--and questions--are an unaffordable reality that stop them from accessing the Web.

Today, Google is joining more than 30 members to launch the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), a new coalition that cuts across boundaries of geography, sector, or size. Our goal? To help bring down Internet costs through policy change.

New technologies play a crucial role in bringing the Internet to more people worldwide--we’ve developed and invested in many of these big ideas over the years. We broke new ground with balloon-powered Internet access, are bringing broadband to Africa with TV White Spaces, and are funding organizations like the Internet Society to develop Internet Exchange Points in emerging markets.

These technologies can have major impact, but no single solution can connect the 5 billion people living without Internet access today. Policy change can help new innovation take hold and flourish; outdated policies can stifle progress. In Kenya and other markets that have adopted national broadband plans, policy change has delivered results, fast. A4AI will focus on those policy changes that can bolster new access technologies and initiatives and make the Internet more affordable to people worldwide.

Initiated by the World Wide Web Foundation, A4AI includes members from the technology, government, and nonprofit worlds, from developed and developing countries. Google--along with other Global Sponsors--joined the alliance in its early days to help establish the vision that exists today, as well as rally more members that share our mission for affordable Internet access.

A4AI has a specific goal in mind: to reach the UN Broadband Commission target of entry-level broadband access priced at less than 5% of monthly income worldwide. (According to the ITU, households in the developing world pay roughly 30% of monthly income for a fixed connection, so there’s a lot of work to do.) We’re working with A4AI on several initial projects, including:
  • Publishing a set of policy and regulatory best practices
  • Working directly with governments, with plans to engage with 10+ countries by the end of 2015
  • Releasing the first edition of an annual affordability report

Ultimately, A4AI is about making the world a more connected place. Over 90% of people in the 49 least developed countries are still not online. A4AI wants to help people in these countries to get access, to find a door to new information, opportunities, and ideas. Dr. Bitange Ndemo, the honorary chairperson of A4AI, has called for the need to remove “analog policies that are holding back the digital revolution” in emerging markets.

We couldn’t agree more.

Posted by Jennifer Haroon, Access Principal

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Responding to the Colorado Floods

Last week, Colorado was hit with severe storms and flooding, washing out roads and bridges and leaving thousands displaced. Many people, including local Googlers, have been evacuated from their homes or are still without essential services. The recovery period is likely to be lengthy as major roads are repaired and communities clean up.
In response to the disaster, Google Crisis Response worked closely with the local team to launch a Crisis Map showing aerial photos, shelters, road closures and more. Public Alerts notified people of flash flood warnings. The team worked closely with the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, as well as the Boulder Office of Emergency Management and other county response agencies to get updates to those affected. 
Google has also donated $50,000 to the Red Cross to support relief and rebuilding efforts. We hope these resources help Coloradans recover from this disaster.

Posted by Scott Green, Boulder Site Director

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Google Person Finder launched in response to Floods in Acapulco, México

Cross-posted from the Google Latin America Blog

After one of the worst floods in Acapulco, Guerrero, caused by recent tropical storms “Ingrid” and “Manuel” , the Google Crisis Response team has launched Person Finder to help the Mexican port respond to this disastrous situation. 

Person Finder is a web application that allows individuals to post and search for the status of relatives or friends affected by a disaster. This tool allows every user to share useful and important data (name, gender, age, location, photos and more) that helps locate and know about isolated or lost persons.



The site activated for Floods in Acapulco is accessible in English and Spanish all over the globe. Additionally, it allows you to receive notifications for the people you're searching for and to set an expiration date for the record you are uploading. It’s worth noting that Google is not responsible for updating the data and does not make any guarantees about its accuracy. Google Person Finder depends on individual users to update and remove records when no longer relevant. As an open source software platform, response teams and developers may use it in their own sites to contribute to the impact and response in emergency actions. 


Posted By Jack Fermon, Product Specialist

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