Google and former French minister help find the missing in Japan

Nicole Guedj was in charge of repatriating the French victims of the 2005 South East Asian tsunami. She started the Red Helmets Foundation to apply new technology to help the victims of natural disasters.

The foundation just launched the Missing web site which enables search teams and families search for missing people. It’s initially aimed at helping locate those missing in the Japanese earthquake and tsunami but the idea is that the site can be reused in disasters as they occur. There are already hundreds of profiles listed on the site.

Missing will help families that are typically left to their own devices to locate missing loved ones during natural disasters, since governments and NGOs are already overwhelmed by the rescue and aid operations.

Missing can be used to create a profile of a missing person with photos, last known location, etc. Witnesses can post pictures and video in which the missing people might have appeared or other info on possible sightings. Members can also follow specific missing people and get alerts when new information is available.

Missing is one of many sites using the API of Google’s person finder system provided by Google Crisis Response . Google engineers built Person Finder in response to the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, multiple websites created similar tools to find the missing but did not join their data together, forcing families and aid workers to keep track of multiple tools and websites. Person Finder solves this problem by serving as a common back-end to store data. It uses a format to transmit the data called PFIF which was established by Hurricane Katrina volunteers. The Missing site also has its own API which developers can use to create new applications which can help locate missing people.

Google crisis response makes critical information more accessible after natural disasters. It organizes emergency alerts, news updates and donation opportunities, provides tools like Person Finder and Resource Finder (health services). Google’s satellite imagery and maps of affected areas can be used to assess infrastructure damage and help relief organizations navigate disaster zones. In addition to Japan, Google crisis response has established response sites this year for the Christchurch earthquake and floods in Brazil.