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Google Maps to dish out disaster alerts

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Google tried to claw back the moral high ground on Wednesday by adding a new emergency alert service to its popular mapping tool, designed to give the public up-to-the-minute information on serious weather, public safety and earthquake-related events.

At the moment, the new feature is only available in the US, however.

In a week that has already seen the web giant exposed for favouring its own Google+ search results over those from the rest of the social web, the firm looked to do something rather more beneficial for mankind with the launch of Google Public Alerts.

“If a major weather event is headed for your area, you might go online to search for the information you need: What’s happening? Where and when will it strike? How severe will it be? What resources are available to help?” wrote Google public alerts engineer Steve Hakusa in a blog post.

“The Google Crisis Response team works on providing critical emergency information during crises. Our goal is to surface emergency information through the online tools you use every day, when that information is relevant and useful.”

The tool draws information from meteorological and other sources and displays them on Google Maps. Clicking through to ‘more info’ on a particular alert will show additional details and a link to the publisher of the information.

At present those publishers are the US-centric National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Weather Service, and the US Geological Survey (USGS). The Reg was still waiting to hear back from Google when it plans to include information from non-US sources.

“Whether you see an alert depends on which alerts are active at a given location, their severity, and your search query. If you’re interested in seeing all of the active alerts in one place, visit our homepage at www.google.org/publicalerts,” Hakusa continued.

“This page also provides a link to more information on our new platform and gives instructions to interested organisations who want to make their emergency data available through this tool.”

This isn't the first time Google has sought to suppress its natural instincts and do something for the common good. In 2008 it launched Google Flu Trends, which uses aggregated search information to estimate and then map flu activity on a global scale. ®

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