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March 15, 2011
Google as a Crisis Responder
 
Here's something that crisis managers will have to sort out as fallout (please excuse that term, but it's appropriate here) from the Japanese nuclear power emergency -– the role of Google vs. the established Joint Information Center (JIC) emergency public information system. Gerald Baron raises this concern in discussing, on his Crisis Comm blogGoogle's Crisis Response site for the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. It's pretty darn comprehensive. 

"Google is doing a great public service," Baron writes, "in organizing response information on the Japan Quake and no doubt this crisis response web service they are providing will grow and we will see even more of this kind of thing in future disasters.

"But, why am I feeling a little uneasy about it? Does it mean that PIOs (Public Information Officer) have no future? What will the JIC (Joint Information Center) do, except feed Google? Why have a JIC website if Google is siphoning all the searches and directing them? How can individual companies or even large responses like the federal response to the gulf spill compete with this kind of interactive functioning, complete editing and review and user interface design based on Google's experience and talent pool? How can crisis communicators compete when this is the standard?"

Good, pertinent questions. Of course, Google doesn't originate information from the scene of a disaster. That's the responsibility of the operator of the facility in question. In nuclear power in the U.S., there is a system of Joint Information Centers for the release of official emergency information, and they hold semi-annual drills with observers representing FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency). Maybe they're already considering the "Google factor" in the release of emergency information.

We don't know anything more about this at this point than what Baron is presenting, but it will definitely be interesting for emergency responders to sort out. They won't want to be in competition with Google, and Google may not want that either. But folks will gravitate to a given institutional source or website. In the Japan earthquake, it's seeming to be Google, though the institutional "geography" there is different from the U.S. Certainly, though, it would be hard to match Google's Person Finder anywhere else. 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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