Social media does a good job of delivering information quickly, but with so many sources – both official and unofficial – it is difficult to find the right signal in all the noise. When a crisis occurs, travelers don't have time to sift through mountains of information to find what they need. Google’s new service, SOS Alerts, intends to change that.
What are SOS Alerts?
According to Google, “SOS Alerts aim to make emergency information more accessible during a natural or human-caused crisis.” The service intends to collect the most relevant, accurate and authoritative information from social media, the web, existing Google sources and their connections with organizations and authorities around the world such as the Red Cross, FEMA and many others. SOS Alerts, according to Google, will typically be published in the local language (where the crisis has occurred) as well as English.
Where do you get them?
Alerts are accessed in a few ways:
You can search Google for a crisis. For a crisis that happens in Shanghai, for instance, searching for Shanghai will automatically display an SOS Alert in red at the top of search results. Clicking on that will take you to maps, top stories and other useful information from authorities.
You can browse to the crisis location in Google Maps, which will display an SOS Alerts icon that will open up a card featuring the most relevant information and links.
If you’re in an area directly affected and your location services on your smartphone are activated, you may receive a push notification from Google that directs you to the SOS Alert.
You don’t have to be there to use SOS Alerts
Crisis situations in the world don’t just affect those that are on location. Back home, family, friends, colleagues and travel managers can also use SOS Alerts to find out what is happening. By simply searching for relevant terms related to the incident, SOS Alerts can be accessed with an overview of the situation. Google Maps can also be used by browsing to that area of the map to get real-time updates on what is happening.
Which incidents warrant an SOS Alert?
When Facebook released their Safety Check feature in 2015, the company was criticized for only activating it for certain incidents. Facebook has now broadened its policies governing when a Safety Check is activated. It’s unclear at this point what types of crises Google will push SOS Alerts for. According to their support site, they will weigh factors such as internet connectivity in the area, availability of content from sources such as local government authorities, as well as the significance of the incident and the impact it has had. Plans are to roll out alerts on select crises initially, with more broad global coverage over time.
The verdict on SOS Alerts for travelers
At the time of this article, SOS Alerts are brand new. Only time will tell how well the service actually works, but initial looks are promising. What is clear, however, is that for travelers, SOS Alerts could be an important weapon in the traveler's digital arsenal. It could prove to be very useful as a supplement to the relevant travel and emergency information provided by your employer, your travel management company and travel suppliers.
For more information on the emergency information that Travel and Transport is able to provide, visit our Travel Risk Management resource center.