Google Person Finder, launched after the bombings at the Boston Marathon, provides a unique tool for rescue workers, those searching for loved ones and anyone wishing to supply or access information in a crisis.
A searchable database of missing and found persons, Person Finder for Boston went up less than an hour after the explosions. It works by compiling missing person reports, information from emergency officials and data from site users.
"When disaster strikes, people turn to the Internet for information," says Google's Crisis Response Team. "We help ensure the right information is there in these times of need by building tools to collect and share emergency information and by supporting first responders in using technology to help improve and save lives."
The Huffington Post outlines how the tool can be used by both those searching for and possessing information:
"If you're looking for someone, all you need to do is type in all or part of that person's name and search for him or her. A message saying 'Status: Someone has received information that this person is alive' will appear if there is positive information available regarding this person. You can click through to see who provided that information and when it was posted.
"If you have information about someone at the scene, click 'I have information about someone.' That will take you to a page where you can provide more information about that person's whereabouts and health so that people looking for that person can find him or her and contact you."
Person Finder was built and launched in less than 72 hours by Google's Crisis Response team after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. It has since been used in Japan and New Zealand after devastating earthquakes and, most recently, following the Boston Marathon bombing. Part of Google.org, Google's solutions site for world issues, the full-time team "makes critical information more accessible during disaster situations."
Immediately after a natural disaster or crisis, cell phone service often becomes clogged with calls, meaning that ways to find and distribute information are crucial.
Other data services utilized in the Boston emergency include Boston.com's Google-based forms for needing a place to stay or offering boarding. The Guardian tracked how often the forms were used per minute yesterday.
As Forbes reports, the Person Finder and its data are only available temporarily. "Many people have data privacy concerns and want to know what happens to this information when the crisis is over," wrote TJ McCue. "... The personal record on Google is only up for a limited time."
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