Technology companies banded together to help in the aftermath of the earthquake that hit Nepal on Saturday. The 7.8 magnitude earthquake was the worst earthquake the country had seen in the past 80 years. The Himalayan nation was jarred and latest reports put the death toll at 3,218. As rescue efforts, aided by foreign nations and charities continue, modern technology is helping people locate their loved ones. Social networking site Facebook and Google have launched services which let users tell their family that they are all right.
Both apps were developed by the technology companies in response to other disasters, but proved useful in Nepal in the aftermath of the earthquake. People took to Twitter to tweet out a thank you for the service as they found their relatives and friends safe. Facebook was inspired by the Japan earthquake and tsunami in 2011 to develop Safety Check while Google launched their Person Finder first in 2010 after the Haiti earthquake.
Facebook had launched Safety Check last year in October with the thought that people turned to Facebook to check whether their loved ones are safe and to get updates. The app proved its usefulness this weekend as people marked themselves as safe. Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, posted a message on his wall reminding people of the feature and telling them that it had been activated. “It’s at moments like this that being able to connect really matters,” said Zuckerberg. On activation, users in the affected area received a notification asking about their well being. Once their location has been confirmed by looking at their profile, they can select the “I’m Safe” option and people on their friend lists immediately get a notification letting them know.
People who have friends in the affected area will receive the notification and can see their friend’s update. The desktop application of Safety Check also lists phone numbers of emergency services in the region.
The Google Person Finder is a similar Web application where visitors can post and search for the status of their friends and relatives in the affected area. It uses a database of missing persons and lets users crosscheck against it. The tool can also be accessed offline by texting “search<name>” to a number in Nepal, India or the U.S. The app has been launched in over 40 languages to ensure that people do not face any difficulties while accessing it.
It was launched by the Google Crisis Response Team after they determined that it would be useful for responding given the scale of the disaster in Nepal. The only negative point is that anyone can access the tool and Google does not verify or review the accuracy of the data.
Following in the footsteps of Facebook and Google, Apple has also started its own relief effort where iTunes users can donate to the American Red Cross. Questions arose, though about the reach of the app services as during a disaster telecommunication lines may get disrupted and it is difficult to access the internet when a person’s house has been turned to rubble. In Nepal too, many parts do not have any cellphone network and power in the aftermath of the earthquake, UNICEF reported on Saturday so the technology might be a little hard to use.
By Anugya Chitransh
Photo by Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi for UNDP Nepal from the United Nations Development Program – Creativecommons Flickr License