As the death toll of the Qinghai quake continues to climb to over 600 people, China’s leaders, diplomatic friends and….well, even its foes are stepping up to the plate in the name of relief services. The most unexpected of helpers? Google.
In response to the devastating Qinghai tremors, Google has launched its “Crisis Response” application –a powerful media interface that helps people find family members and friends whom may have fallen victim to the earthquake. First launching in response to the Chilean earthquakes, the service combines Google News, YouTube and real-time search results in order to provide a comprehensive search engine specific to the quake crisis.
According to Google’s “Crisis Response” press release, the service aims to:
- Coordinate with other platforms, organizations and teams
- Build tools to surface near-real-time data
- Support response/relief organizations
- Respond in times of crisis
But wait, what happens when these “other platforms”—i.e. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook—are blocked within the crisis-stricken country? Apparently, a whole lot of nothing, which is what we found out today upon checking out the site.
While the “Real Time Updates” button yields a plethora of current postings, the majority of the results (which mostly hail from Twitter), are re-directed to an unavailable site. Concurrently, the same is true of the “YouTube” tab, which offers nothing but an “unavailable” web page and not even a list of results. The “Google News” tab seems to be the only effective resource on the platform, offering updated news reports similar to a Google search.
The reason behind this dearth of content is quite obvious, as the networking tools that form the bedrock of the “Crisis Response” interface are almost all but blocked in the Mainland. But perhaps what’s most significant about Google’s helping hand during this incident is its willingness to mobilize for China in spite of recent political quibbles. We all know that feelings between Google and China are anything but rosy right now, and we all know some of this is based upon Internet censorship (an issue that is underscored perhaps for the upteenth time in light of this current crisis). But according to some experts, Google doesn’t care about all that when it comes to humanitarian work. Benjamin Cohen from the UK’s Channel 4 states:
“While the battle between China and Google is a real issue, I’m not sure that’s the motivation for Google here. The company’s Crisis Response team springs into action whenever and wherever there is a major incident.”
Indeed, the foundation of Google’s “Crisis Response” tool is based on a quote by famous Doctor and mystic, Daniel D. Palmer, who stated that “the most wonderful study of mankind is man. Relieving human suffering and diffusing universal knowledge is humanitarian.”
Stated at the turn of the 20th century, and waaaaaay before the phenom of new media technologies, Palmer will never know how apt his statement is today. And perhaps, neither will China if it keeps blocking efforts to “diffuse universal knowledge” in the name of humanitarian work.
Other relief efforts rallying around China right now include professional NBA player Yao Ming who has set up a hotline to help North American Chinese residents reach family and friends. A star for the Houston Rockets, Yao is no stranger to crisis relief services, as he stepped up during the 2008 Sichuan earthquakes to create a foundation of which he personally donated $2million to rebuild homes and schools.
The Associated Press reports that Yao is still unsure what the full scope of this foundation will offer, but in the meantime, North Americans can call (718) 766-9636 and receive a recorded message (in both English and Mandarin) that asks the caller to enter the phone number of the person they are trying to reach in China.