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Google Adds Earthquake, Tsunami Public Alerts for Japan
Last year, in response to recent increases in dynamic weather and environmental changes, Google debuted Public Alerts, an array of U.S. notifications embedded into the company’s main search project. Now Google has decided to bring this same functionality to users in one of the most environmentally active areas on the planet: Japan.
Google’s expansion of its Public Alerts into Japan marks the first time the company has extended its alerts service outside of U.S. borders. Located in the most dangerous part of an area in the Pacific Ocean known as the Ring of Fire, Japan experiences around 5,000 earthquakes per year, a fact that has made disaster preparation and reliance on earthquake and tsunami warnings an integral part of the local culture. And while the country’s populace already uses a number of apps and services designed to offer local alerts, Google’s increasing popularity has upped expectations regarding the company’s ability to deliver vital, localized data.
Beginning this week, real-time earthquake and tsunami warnings will appear as a part of Google’s desktop and mobile Japan search products, including Maps and Google Now. Using data from the Japan Meteorological Agency, the mobile alerts will also offer detailed evacuation information.
“Google has newly partnered with 14 Japanese prefectures and cities, including seven from the Tohoku region, to make their government data available online and more easily accessible to users, both during a time of crisis and after,” said Google’s partner technology manager, Yu Chen, in a statement.
When the Great Tohoku Earthquake of 2011 hit, giving Japan one of its strongest earthquakes in history (9.0), the event was so rapid and powerful that the entire country was caught off guard, despite years of preparation for “the big one,” a major earthquake event expected to strike Tokyo in the next few decades. But the real test of the country’s public alert system came after the original earthquake, as a major tsunami, sparked by the trembler, hit Japan’s Fukushima region.
Most outside of the country are aware of the tragic events that occurred shortly thereafter, resulting in the loss off well over 15,000 lives, but the somewhat under-reported story is how much Japan came to rely on public alerts over the course of the next year as hundreds of aftershocks, often reaching up to 7 and 8 on the Richter Scale, hit the country, essentially putting citizens in a near constant state of alert. Tools like the Yurekure iPhone app, along with the government’s own television and radio notices, sounded what became common chimes on a weekly basis. And although the aftershock activity has quieted to some extent, Japan still suffers from stronger than usual tremblers related to the 2011 earthquake even today.
However, although Google’s first international Public Alerts rollout will give Japanese users an additional tool that could end up saving lives during the next major crisis, other international users may be wondering when they’ll have access to the same kind of real-time data. Google has not offered a schedule or list of countries for future launches, but Chen said, “We look forward to expanding Google Public Alerts to more countries and working with more warning providers soon.”
By Adario Strange, PCMag