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Fires, chemical clouds and other incidents – How to increase our personal and family preparedness using Google Alerts and use it also for other purposes?

Your personal preparedness

The health and safety of our loved ones is of great concern for all of us. Therefore we should care about our preparedness level in case of severe incidents like a fire in chemical plant in our neighbourhood with a toxic chemical cloud evading through a leak. This has become challenging in many countries all over the globe as many warning sirens have been disabled in the last twenty years. The challenge in such a situation for the emergency command center is how to alert all people in the evacuation area very quickly. In a Web 2.0 + Emergency Management = Emergency Management 2.0 I have already described how the disaster relief operation commander could use Web 2.0 applications. But Web-tools could also be of great help for the affected people themselves. Google Alert is such a tool which could be used by you and your family to be one of the first people to get the alert.

How to use Google Alerts to get the proper result?

Google Alerts is an application which sends out Email-alerts for queries or topics you have predefined. You can choose between three different periods of time: as-it-happens, daily and weekly. Moreover you can also select the source: news, blogs, web, comprehensive, videos, groups. But please keep in mind how Google Alerts works: Depending on the source type the keyword or query must be in the top-ten results of the search (blogs) up to the top-fifty results (groups). Therefore to use keywords like “fire” and the name of the region you are living in would often not be sufficient in many cases and you have to refine your search.

A good way to proceed:

  1. Make yourself familiar with the disaster preparedness scenarios already underway for your region. Some would be obvious (e.g. earthquake) and you will find a lot of information on the websites of the first responders (fire brigade) in your region. Please make yourself familiar with the preparedness activities and the precautions you should take. You could use these websites also as a starting point to find out the broader scope of incidents that can hit your town.
  2. Create Google Alerts based on the information you have gathered. Here you can use the option Advanced Search on the Google landing page. Try to combine the incident (e.g. fire, flood) with severe consequences (e.g. chemical cloud), mitigation efforts of the first responders (e.g. evacuation) and your town. Please also add the region you are living in as news on the Web are very often reported with regards to the most important city in the region. Copy and paste the search string you get as a result of the advanced search page in the field where you type in a new Google Alert on the Google Alert landing page.
  3. Make your family aware of the precautions you have to take. Verify the contact list within your family (e.g. one of your kids have bought a new cell phone) and inform your loved ones about alerting procedures (e.g. decide where to meet in case you would be evacuated)
  4. Check your Google Alerts regularly. Nothing would be worse than a missing alert. Therefore use an email-Account which you check regularly each day.


Security could drive situational awareness outside emergency management

I have just described a scenario to use Google Alerts for your disaster preparedness activities. But you can also use this tool to watch upcoming trends on the Web, economic trends (like news for the stocks you own) or news about your competitors. Therefore situational awareness could not only be increased for critical incidents in disaster preparedness but also for other areas.

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