Google Public Alerts

Google just announced it’s new Public Alerts service recently.

This isn’t like the other Google Alerts service which lets you enter a few search terms and have Google email you when new results are found (although this tool is also useful for alerting you for public safety).

Google Public Alerts is a tool based on Google Maps that shows relevant alerts from public safety agencies such as the NOAA (for oceanographic information), the US National Weather Service, and the USGS (for earthquakes) among others.

Unfortunately, most of the reporting agencies are US based, which makes this tool only useful to a small fraction of the world’s population. Looking at the map it’s clear it only works for the US, as weather warnings stop at the border. Canada’s a really safe place!

On the plus side, it’s a good start, and it provides a way to integrate various public warning systems into an easy-to-use map.

The mapping aspect is important because it will allow people to clearly see what alerts are relevant to them, where Twitter and other “systems” typically contain too much information, and it’s easy to miss the important stuff.

On the technical side, Google is using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), an international standard for publishing and sharing alerting data. I’ve had some experience using CAP while writing emergency management software. Seeing Google subscribe to it’s use is a good thing siunce it would be easy for them to develop their own system. Adopting a standard means that existing publishers will be able to integrate their data into the system, and it will encourage more agencies to adopt CAP.

Any agencies who wish to provide alerting data to Google Public Alerts can contact them (see FAQ question 12) if they already publish in CAP version 1.2.

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