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Responding to the floods in Pakistan

(Cross-posted from The Official Google Blog)

Pakistan has been struck by the worst flooding in its recorded history. The latest estimate of the number of people affected by the flood exceeds 14 million—more than the combined total of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Critical infrastructure has been damaged over the last two weeks and clean water is in short supply. As monsoons approach, flooding is expected to worsen.

Our Crisis Response team has been working to use existing tools and build new ones to help the relief efforts. We just launched a page in Urdu and English where you can find information, resources and donation opportunities to help the victims of the floods. We’re also donating $250,000 to international and local NGOs to immediately aid in relief efforts. Although we’ve been able to provide satellite imagery for disasters in the past, cloud cover in Pakistan has prevented us from compiling useful imagery so far. We hope to share imagery as soon as possible.

We’ve already learned a lot about building useful tools from our previous efforts to help with disaster relief. Following the earthquake in Haiti, a small team of Googlers visited relief aid workers in Haiti to understand how we could further help. In observing and speaking with the relief aid workers, we learned that they needed up-to-date information about available resources (such as which field hospitals have X-ray machines or orthopedic surgeons), their location and contact information. Coordination between various health and relief facilities that spring up in a disaster zone can be challenging.

Based on what we learned in Haiti, we’ve been working to develop Resource Finder, a new tool to help disseminate updated information about which services various health facilities offer. It provides a map with editable records to help relief workers maintain up-to-date information on the services, doctors, equipment and beds available at neighboring health facilities so that they can efficiently arrange patient transfers. We normally wouldn’t release the tool so quickly, but decided to make an early release version of Resource Finder available for supporting relief efforts in Pakistan. This is the first time the tool is being launched during a disaster situation so we’ll be working closely with NGOs to understand its usefulness and will iterate accordingly.

We’ve also launched Person Finder in both Urdu and English for this disaster. This application allows individuals to check and post on the status of relatives or friends affected by a disaster. Fortunately, we’ve heard that missing persons has not been as concerning an issue as it was during the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, but we’ll leave the application up regardless.

Responding to a disaster of this scale is a daunting task, but we can all do something to help. We will try to do our part and continue working with the many incredible NGOs to develop tools that help them work more effectively.

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