Google 20% employee time going to help Japan quake victims and creating new web tools for disaster mitigation

On Friday the first day of the quake, Google’s offices in Tokyo’s Roppongi district contacted, their employer’s philanthropic arm, to suggest it should get involved in the emergency response, as it had after recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile and New Zealand.

Within an hour, and with aftershocks still rocking Tokyo, the Japan Person Finder was online and being promoted worldwide via the firm’s normally minimalist search page, the web’s most visited address. And within 36 hours, its pages had been viewed 30 million times. Usage remains steady almost a week later, Google said, and shows no sign of slowing.

The site allows anyone to upload information on individuals caught up in the disaster. It now contains records on around 250,000 individuals caught up in the quake which is – perhaps unsurprisingly given Japan’s large population and technologically advanced economy – more than the combined total of the similar Person Finder sites Google launched after the Haiti, Chile and New Zealand earthquakes.

Google famously gives its engineers “20% time,” allowing them one day a week to work on side projects that interest them.

The Google Crisis Response Team is now a global unit with a handful of engineers. They are based mostly in Mountain View, Calif., and New York, but others are stationed around the world to ensure 24/7 coverage.

Google’s Crisis Response team launched a new Picasa-based tool for the Japanese crisis. It allows people in emergency shelters to share photos, taken with their mobile phones, of the list of names of those housed at that shelter. The team is in the process of manually adding the names from those photos to Person Finder.

Google has also parked a link on its homepage to a Crisis Response website that includes Person Finder, maps, news updates and a list of relief organizations collecting donation

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