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Google Earth and Maps help save lives and protect property when disasters strike

Posted by Rick Hinrichs, Director of Disaster Emergency Services, Red Cross - San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter.

Editors note:Today’s guest blogger is Rick Hinrichs from the Red Cross - San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter. We recently sat down with him to discuss how his organization stays coordinated during disasters using Google Earth and Maps. To learn more, watch this video.

In the event of a natural disaster or unexpected emergency, a quick and effective response can mean the difference between life and death. We at the Red Cross can always be counted on to assist on the front lines of these disasters and emergencies.

When the 2007 wildfires struck Southern California, 500,000 people were told to evacuate their homes in 30 minutes, but our San Diego command center wasn't fully staffed until four hours later. We scrambled to collect information and plan a strategy over the phone and through email. It was clear we needed a more efficient solution for better situational awareness and a common operating picture for the Red Cross command center, our volunteers and the citizens we serve.

In response, our San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of the Red Cross implemented a new response system built on Google Earth and Maps. Our map has dozens of data layers that can be used in a disaster situation to display, in real-time, everything from the location of our volunteers to shelters, food trucks, and medical supplies. This map can also be easily shared with other emergency management agencies outside of Southern California.

Now, volunteers and the public can pull up the Red Cross’ web-based emergency response map on their smartphones or tablets while out in the field. They can see safe routes to travel, hospital locations and other places to access resources during a disaster. Google Earth and Maps require no additional training; our volunteers already know how to use them.

Our chapter responds to a disaster once every 28 hours or so, from house fires and SWAT incidents to search and rescue operations. By mapping these locations on Google Earth and Maps, we can see where our assets are, determine where the most incidents occur, and better target our outreach and effectiveness.

The bottom line: the Red Cross is committed to protecting property and lives, and Google Earth and Maps help us do a much better job.