UNISDR: Google plays important role in disaster relief

Wahlström speaking at "Big Tent" in Sendai, Japan on 2 July 2012.
Photo: UNISDR

Speaking in Japan at the Google-hosted event, "Big Tent: The Role of Technology in Disaster Preparedness and Relief", the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) head of office Margareta Wahlström said Google and other providers of information can make an important contribution to raising awareness about disaster risk reduction in disaster-prone countries. “Experience shows that early warning messages save lives if people receiving the message know how to act - what to do when the emergency strikes.

She pointed out that the internet combined with technologies such as Geographic Information systems make it possible to better understand hazards, and, in particular, the growing exposure and vulnerability of cities to disasters and risks.“There is an opportunity for Google and other providers of information to make themselves part of the chain of education and awareness raising that is necessary to reach all people in exposed and vulnerable regions and to save lives. In a number of high risk countries, 90 percent of the people have a cell phone, and only 10 percent have internet access. Innovative partnerships will overcome this gap.”

Google took the opportunity of the event to urge governments to get better at sharing information to allow citizens and first responders to make better use of the Internet during natural disasters. Rachel Whetstone, the firm's senior vice president of public policy and communications, said that some countries hesitate over disclosing data and that this prevents civil society from creating new services to help citizens in need.