(FILES) A file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers' screens. Google is dropping out of the bidding for a huge Pentagon cloud computing contract that could be worth up to $10 billion, saying the deal would be inconsistent with its principles. The decision by Google, confirmed to AFP in an email October 9, 2018, leaves a handful of other tech giants including Amazon in the running for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract aimed at modernizing the military's computing systems. / AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE
Agence France-Presse

Google has announced a number of enhancements to SOS Alerts, a safety feature first introduced to Google Maps and Search nearly two years ago.

In a nutshell, SOS Alerts are designed to surface key information during natural disasters and human-induced catastrophes — this could include maps showing where wildfires are active, local news coverage, Twitter updates, relevant telephone numbers, ways to donate to a cause, and more.

Starting today, and rolling out over the next few weeks, SOS Alerts are getting a big makeover, and will now feature visual data about disasters and a warning system that helps you navigate around potentially hazardous areas.

Google Maps will show visualizations about hurricanes — in the days that precede an expected hurricane, users will see a notification card warning them if they are in the area. This will also show an anticipated storm trajectory, and the time at which it’s expected to pass various points along the route.

In the coming months, Google will also add additional alerts if it thinks that a crisis may impact your drive — so if your drive encroaches on the path of a hurricane, it will try to help you steer clear.

It’s not just about hurricanes though. In the aftermath of an earthquake, SOS Alerts will also now show the “shakemap” including its epicenter and magnitude, with different colors illustrate the intensity of the earthquake in relation to each location.

And Google Maps users in India, where some of the most devastating floods have impacted in recent years, will see forecasts that highlight where a flood is mostly likely to affect, and its degrees of severity by location.

Though the Google Maps visualizations will only show up for those in the affected areas, those searching for more information through Google Search using event-specific search terms will be able to see similar SOS Alerts.

SOS Alerts are similar in concept to Facebook’s Safety Check which launched back in 2014, and such features help to illustrate how platforms with such scale can be used to help millions of people in times of crisis. Indeed, Google’s reach is used to convey all manner of crisis-related information, such as AMBER alerts to locate missing children and drug disposal locations to combat the opioid crisis.

The new hurricane and earthquake visualiations will be landing in Google across all its mobile and desktop platforms over the coming weeks, while the new flood forecast tools will start rolling out Patna, India before expanding to the Ganges and Brahmaputra regions.

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