Homeland Security: Google Launches Public Alerts

Earlier this week, Google’s Crisis Response Project–an initiative to make critical information more accessible around natural disasters and humanitarian crises[i]–unveiled a new project called Google Public Alerts.

Following the release of the new project (via an official blog post from Google) on Wednesday, January 25th, PCMag reports that the Alerts are to provide “timely information about threatening weather conditions through Google Maps.”[ii]

As one probes into this new Google effort, self-reported to “surface emergency information through the online tools you use everyday,”[iii] it is interesting to highlight that Google isn’t actually creating its own data points for these emergencies. Rather, the company is drawing from government-provided data for the Public Alerts project, specifically: the US Geological SurveyNational Weather Service, and US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The availability of government-provided data for the Alerts project leads one to question what other types of mapping and incident data sources are provided by the US government and accessible free of charge to citizens?

A quick search revealed several interesting and worthwhile sources of data. In particular, the US Agency for International Development maintains a Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) Network. The site contains a near and midterm outlook, as well as satellite imagery and weather hazard information for mapping data. Comprehensive as it may seem, some of the globe is still not available, including North Korea. It does, however, provide an interesting overview and service.

Additionally, the US Department of Agriculture’s Forestry Service maintains an Active Fire Mapping Program based on geographic data provided by the National Interagency Coordination Center. While only updated weekly, it provides near real-time fire locations across the US.

Further, the GlobalIncidentMap, a private sector entity, provides various information-rich data points on terrorism incidents, as well as other subjects, like HAZMAT, Disease, Gang, and Drug Interdiction. It is interesting to note that GIM leverages Google Maps as part of its visualization component.

So, what other information and data rich entities are out there? What does it mean that so many extra-government organizations use US government data to support their services?

About the Authors:

Brittany Minder received her BA in International Relations from Stanford University and she serves as the Lint Center’s Public & External Affairs Associate.

Tim Coleman serves as the Center’s Director of Communications.

*Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the Lint Center Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc. or any employee thereof. The Lint Center for National Security Studies, Inc. is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the Lint Center Bloggers.


1.     Google Crisis Response Project, 2012, http://www.google.org/crisisresponse/

2.     Official Google Blog, “Public Alerts now on Google Maps,” January 25, 2012, Retrieved on January 31, 2012, http://blog.google.org/2012/01/public-alerts-now-on-google-maps.html.

3.     Horn, Leslie. “Google Public Alerts to Provide Severe Weather Warnings”, PC Mag, January 25, 2012, Retrieved from http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2399354,00.asp

4.     National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012, http://www.noaa.gov/

5.     The National Weather Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2012, http://weather.gov/

6.     United States Geological Survey, 2012, http://www.usgs.gov/

7.     Central Intelligence Agency, World Factbook: North Korea, January 10, 2012, Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/kn.html

8.     GlobalIncidentMap, 2012, http://www.globalincidentmap.com/

[i] “Google Crisis Response: Frequently Asked Questions”. Google. Retrieved January, 31, 2012, http://www.google.com/crisisresponse/faq.html

[ii] Horn, Leslie. “Google Public Alerts to Provide Severe Weather Warnings”, PC Mag, January 25, 2012, Retrieved from http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2399354,00.asp

[iii] Official Google Blog, “Public Alerts now on Google Maps,” January 25, 2012, Retrieved on January 31, 2012. http://blog.google.org/2012/01/public-alerts-now-on-google-maps.html.