Google Person Finder helping to find missing in Philippine floods

The search giant is using its service to help people find or offer details on missing persons in response to the flooding in the Philippines.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

The recent flooding in the Philippines has left many people stranded or missing. Now Google is using its Person Finder to aid in the search.

Person Finder is aimed at connecting missing persons with their loved ones. Anyone who is looking for a lost person or has information about someone who's been found can use the Person Finder page to post that person's name.

If you're looking for someone who's missing, you can enter the person's name or at least parts of the name. And if you've have information on someone who's been located, you can enter the person's first and last names.

On the other end, responders can embed the Person Finder code in a Web site and then download and upload data to sync their own databases with the Person Finder. Press agencies, non-governmental agencies, and organizations can contribute to the database and receive updates as they come in.

Google created Person Finder as an open-source project in January 2010 in response to the Haiti earthquake.

One problem that arose during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was that responders had to deal with multiple databases to search for and track missing persons. As a solution, Person Finder uses a specific data format that allows information from different sources to all be catalogued in one single place.

"We've deployed Google Person Finder for several different incidents since the project started in 2010, and we've found that it's most useful in instances where a large number of people are displaced, traditional communications have broken down, and there is no immediate possibility to return home," Ka-Ping Yee, Google's Person Finder software engineer, said in a statement e-mailed to CNET.

"Although it's typically more effective when Internet access is available, we've also seen that it can help bridge the gap between people working online and offline," Yee added. "After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, photos of handwritten lists of people's names at the shelters were posted online, and volunteers across the Internet entered those names into Google Person Finder to help people reconnect to their loved ones."

The American Red Cross offers a searchable database where you can report yourself as safe or search for people who have checked in. But that site only handles U.S. disasters. For those hurt by the Philippines flooding, Person Finder and Google's data are available in either English or Filipino.

Heavy rains in the Philippines have led to the death of nine people in the capital of Manila and another four in the province of Laguna, just south of Manila. So far, more than 50 people have died as a result of the flooding across the country, according to CBS News. Thousands more are stranded on rooftops without food or water.

Update 8/8 4:30 a.m. PT with comment from Google.

 

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