Just in time for hurricane season, Google's Crisis Response team is making a few small but important tweaks to its crisis mapping and public alert products.
Google's Crisis Map, which shows a birds-eye geographic view of disasters (here's the crisis map for U.S. wildfires), will be updated with data from the crowd. So if a user has information to share about a specific location (maybe that there are beds left in a shelter, for example), he or she can add it directly to the map. The feature was launched for the fires in Valparaiso, Chile; it will be available during all big disasters this summer.
The second update, in Google Public Alerts, will add a feed of relevant Tweets--related to events like road closures and storm updates--to a service that already offers emergency alerts via Google Maps, Google Now, and Google's Public Alerts website. Eyewitness accounts from Twitter will also be published.
From Google's website:
Many people on the front lines of a disaster are sharing relevant information through social media. We want to help make this content easier to find, and available alongside information from official sources.
It’s no small feat to identify the most useful information--but it’s important to start somewhere. That’s why we’re taking a first step to integrate social media in our #crisisresponse products.
If there was any question about the value of Twitter in disasters, Google has implicitly offered its take: The Tweetstream is one of the most valuable sources of information available.