Speaking in Sendai, Japan on Monday, officials from Google requested that governments be more forthcoming when it comes to releasing information to the public during natural disasters, as it would allow people to use the internet more effectively. At Google’s first “Big Tent” conference in Asia, Rachel Whetstone, who oversees the company’s public policy and communications division, said that if countries are slow to release disaster information, citizens aren’t able to create new services that benefit everybody. She commented that the improvements to Google’s maps service are credited to the sharing of information.
This year’s Big Tent was held in Sendai, the Japanese city at the center of the earthquake and tsunami damaged region last year, to serve as a reminder of the importance of helping people and saving lives in the event of a natural disaster. It was noted how the Tokyo government was slow to, or did not, publish the information it received about the Fukushima nuclear crisis and the spread of radiation.
Google’s engineers explained how cumbersome it had been that the data the Japanese government did release was in PDF format, which made it difficult and slow for the information to be edited and analyzed by scientists around the world. With sudden high demand for information, the science ministry’s servers crashed, and that’s when public IT companies, like Google, and academics had a hard time trying to translate the data into english and convert it to easier to use formats. Brian McClendon, Google’s vice president of technology, explained that the most important thing is for the government’s data to be released quickly so it can be combined with other existing data.
Officials from the Japanese government responded that they were afraid releasing information that wasn’t easily understandable would increase the panic and chaos. However, this thought is what cost the government the largest loss of public trust, commented Masaakira James Kondo, Twitter Japan’s country manager. A U.N. representative said that the chaos and panic were magnified because there was fear of unknown health effects from the nuclear crisis. Other experts said that information must be released for quick distribution on the internet, even if there is a chance of it being incorrect.
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