When simple is best: Google Maps for disaster prep

To prepare residents for natural or manmade disasters, the Los Angeles’ Information Technology Agency (ITA) is using a tool many Angelenos already use on a regular basis to check traffic or get directions: Google Maps.

The city first turned to the world’s most popular navigation app in the winter of 2016, when the “Godzilla El Nino” weather system threated to soak California. As officials considered what residents needed to be prepared, the answer was they needed to know where to find things — hardware stores, shelters and food banks, for example.

“The more we discussed this, the more we realized that really what we were describing was a map, ITA General Manager Ted Ross said. Google Maps provides the full package, allowing users to see their current locations via their phones’ GPS, and ITA was able to add layers with application programming interfaces. For instance,  an API from the National Weather Service could show where the storms were headed, a Google API layered on locations of hardware stores and sandbags, and an API from a utility company showed power outages.

That El Nino fizzled with no major problems, but when the Skirball Fire struck the city last winter, ITA turned to the map again. The mayor’s office ordered evacuations that would affect about 150,000 of the city’s 4 million residents and asked ITA for a digital way to quickly get the information out.

“We took Google Maps, and within an hour or so the city had the evacuation area clearly identified, we had evacuation centers, we had evacuation centers for animals,” Ross said. “You don’t have to be an expert at reading maps. You can very clearly see if you’re in the evacuation area or outside the evacuation area.” ..Read More..

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