Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

Google and San Francisco Launch Real-Time Crisis Map
By: Sarah Rich on October 21, 2013
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Photo courtesy of Flickr/Doctor Popular


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In the event of future emergencies that may strike San Francisco, the city plans to launch a new online crisis map with real-time displays of affected areas so residents can respond appropriately.

The map, dubbed Crisis Mode, is currently running live in conjunction with SF72 – a new open source digital platform that provides online resources and updates for emergency preparedness – and was developed by Google.org, the search engine's charitable arm. In the event of a city emergency, the crisis map becomes the home page of SF72.

Francis Zamora, the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management’s public information officer, said the map is currently in soft-launch mode, as the city is still fine-tuning the processes around sharing information. But the plan is to display real-time emergency related information on the map and use the tool to push out official updates regarding those emergencies to the public.

“Some of the feeds are live right now, but internally as a team we’re trying to figure how we roll it into our own procedures,” Zamora said.

Currently the crisis map is displaying a live feed of San Francisco traffic updates from 511.org, plotted with colored lines to indicate heavy traffic areas.

If San Francisco were to experience a micro-emergency, like a fire ablaze in the city’s Sunset District, for example, the map will show an alert warning and also indicate what streets to avoid due to fire activity.

For larger-scale emergencies, like an earthquake, the map will display alerts about street closures as well as other information, like shelter locations. Once the Red Cross makes a shelter available, its location will automatically populate on the crisis map.

Below the map, a mash-up of tweets is displayed to alert residents of any additional updates on emergencies. Official Twitter updates from organizations like the Department of Emergency Management and FEMA will appear alongside unofficial updates, crowdsourced from various  Twitter accounts.

Zamora said the city wanted to infuse Twitter updates with the Crisis Mode tool because many Twitter users retweet and share updates about emergencies as they occur. In the future, when the Emergency Management department tweets out information on emergencies, it will do so with a link to the Crisis Mode tool in the tweet.

According to Rob Dudgeon, deputy director of San Francisco’s Emergency Management department, the early phases of the project have been successful so far.

“It’s a capstone project for years and years of research in looking at how do we move the needle on preparedness in general,” Dudgeon said.

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