Google is rolling out new tools today to help searchers and Maps users get critical information during a crisis. This new feature is called SOS Alerts, and it expands on previous emergency response features Google has launched. It’s even live today, offering important information about the wildfires in British Columbia, Canada.
Google breaks down this new feature in a post to the Google Blog. When users search for “British Columbia fires,” on web or mobile, they’ll be presented with an SOS Alert at the top of the search results. The SOS Alert will include any relevant news articles, emergency numbers, and safety information. You’ll also see official government reports on the status of the crisis in question.
What you see ultimately depends on how close you are to the crisis. When I search for “British Columbia fires,” for instance, I only see news articles, official alerts, and a map of the affected area, but that’s because I’m on the other side of North America. Though I have the option for viewing local coverage and alerts, someone who’s located closer to the affected area will see those local stories automatically.
Within the Google Maps mobile app, you’ll see a specific icon representing the crisis appear on the map. That icon will be accompanied by a tappable card that houses important information, whether it’s emergency phone numbers, road closures, or traffic updates. Much of that functionality extends to the web version of Google Maps too, which in the case of the British Columbia fires, offers clickable icons for buildings that have been shut down and individual fires that have been identified.
This new functionality isn’t just for putting important information about a disaster out there, as in some cases where Google deems it appropriate, those searching for a crisis will be offered donation opportunities as well. You can try this functionality for yourself today by searching for the British Columbia fires. For now, SOS Alerts are only rolling out in about a dozen countries with the whole of Europe left off the list, but we should see the feature expand into other territories soon.