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Google Hosts Disaster Risk Reduction Conference in Japan


July 11, 2012


PDC’s Disaster Alert, normally viewed on Android and iOS mobile devices, is seen here on the big screen behind Ms. Margareta Wahlstrom, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction. 

Google Zeitgeist events take place all around the world. They are small, high-level, invitation-only idea exchanges that attract the attention of such world citizens as former U.S. President Bill Clinton and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, both of whom have given Zeitgeist keynote addresses. In recent years, some of these conferences have been followed by larger, more public gatherings that Google calls Big Tent events.

At the Big Tent event in Sendai, Japan, on July 2, the subject was The Role of Technology in Disaster Preparedness and Relief. Ms. Margareta Wahlstrom, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General for Disaster Risk Reduction, gave the keynote address. As reported on “My News Desk” in News from Google, Wahlstrom said, “we can now get quick warnings and alerts to many populations on their phones, but many who receive the alerts don’t know how to act.” As she spoke of the value of mobile apps and smart phones in getting important disaster and risk-reduction information to people, Wahlstrom displayed PDC’s Disaster Alert app, showing both the program’s list of active hazards and a tsunami travel time map.

On the website of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, Ms. Wahlstrom’s comments are reported in some detail. “There is an opportunity for Google and other providers of information,” she said, “to make themselves part of the chain of education and awareness raising that is necessary to reach all people in exposed and vulnerable regions and to save lives. In a number of high risk countries, 90 percent of the people have a cell phone, and only 10 percent have Internet access. Innovative partnerships will overcome this gap.” The same site goes on. “She pointed out that the Internet combined with technologies such as Geographic Information Systems makes it possible to better understand hazards, and, in particular, the growing exposure and vulnerability of cities to disasters and risks. [Wahlstrom said,] ‘Easy access to applicable risk assessment and hazard mapping is critical to offer citizens the choice to take decisions on their own safety and how to protect their assets. Partnerships with Google and other e-providers as well as the insurance industry will speed up the availability of such critical information.’”

Among the speakers at the Sendai Big Tent event was longtime PDC collaborator Dr. Wei Sen Li, Deputy Executive Secretary of the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction (NCDR), Taiwan, who took the photo, above, of Ms. Wahlstrom. 

Web resources of related interest:
• The UNISDR press release about Margareta Wahlström’s appearance in Sendai.
• Google’s announcement of the Big Tent Sendai 2012 event.
• The Google News report on the Sendai event.
• An article in the Telegraph (London) about Big Tent events.

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Pacific Disaster Center (PDC) envisions a safer, more secure world—where populations live in more disaster-resilient communities informed by science and technology, and equipped with sound decision support tools. To help make that vision a reality, PDC is dedicated to supporting evidence-based disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts by providing actionable information and applications to the public and disaster managers worldwide. PDC, a program managed by the University of Hawaii, was established by the U.S. government in 1996.