Google Introduces Earthquake and Wildfire Alerts to Help During Disasters

If you’re in California, you may want to rethink your technology.

Google is getting smarter at alerting Google Maps and Android users about when disaster is about to strike — and what to do when it does. This week, Google revealed two new safety detection features that could help Android and Google Maps users seek shelter or navigate safely during an earthquake or wildfire.

Now, when a Google user searches “wildfire in California” (or specific fires in whichever location), Google will immediately provide a wildfire boundary map, showing the size and scope of the fire in near-real time. Any pertinent information about how to avoid the fire while traveling will also show up in Google Maps and SOS Alerts will notify anyone within the fire’s immediate area about the outbreak, according to a blog post from the company. Road closures, traffic, navigation and news stories related to the fire will appear within Google Maps for geographically affected users.

Google is able to provide accurate information about the fire’s growth with data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) satellites and their own Google Earth Engine.

And Android devices will now alert owners about upcoming earthquakes, starting with those in the California region. Google collaborated with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) to send ShakeAlert notifications directly to Android devices in California. Android users will now get a direct ping that an earthquake is about to hit and may have a few extra minutes to seek shelter.

In addition, Android phones may help create a more accurate earthquake detection system by acting as mini seismometers as part of the Android Earthquake Alerts System. The network will use the accelerometers that are already inside Android phones to detect when an earthquake might be happening.

After the test run in California, the earthquake alerts are expected to roll out to more states and countries around the world.

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