One of the legacies of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami off the coast of Sendai, Japan, has been the importance of information, or rather the timeliness of that information. The Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, have been widely criticized for the way in which they released information about the natural and later nuclear disaster. Contrast that with Google’s reaction. When devising ways to assist with the disaster response, its Japanese and American employees took to heart the web search company’s mission to index information and make it accessible.
Within hours of the earthquake, Googlers had a working “Person Finder” website, based on one they had constructed after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. The site allowed people to post updates, which concerned friends and family could search. In those areas without reliable Internet access, Google asked people to post photographs on its Picasa service of handwritten notes tacked up in evacuation centers. It then tasked its Japanese sales team with transcribing the notes to make them searchable on the web. As the number of photos grew, other web users joined in the effort.
Aside from Person Finder, Google also unleashed its fleet of Street View cars to photograph stricken areas to catalog damage. It also collected and posted information on train delays and mapped damage to roads. The company also used its relationship with satellite imagery firms GeoEye and Digital Globe to make available updated satellite photos of the areas affected by the disaster.
Google’s efforts have been lauded in Japan and heralded as a pitch perfect corporate social responsibility program, or CSR, even though that may not have been its original intent. “Many CSR programs seem to be obligations or even ‘white-washing’ where a firm is trying to create cover for irresponsible activities,” said Dylan Minor, an assistant professor of managerial economics and decision sciences. “Since this effort was initiated and sustained by those workers personally affected—Google Japan employees and American Japanese workers—it came across as genuine.”
Minor also points out that the initiatives were started by the employees who know the technology best and could quickly marshall it in ways that were most effective. “Upper management had the foresight to allow such affected employees to innovate and invest in solutions, creating genuine and effective CSR activities.”
While some companies may respond to a disaster by donating money or organizing a food drives, the search company smartly took advantage of its own products and know-how. “What is brilliant about these relief efforts by Google is they are showcasing their technology: providing the best way to find lost loved ones and for your loved ones to navigate unfamiliar mountain roads to safety,” Minor said. “In contrast, if Google had drop shipped medical supplies, it is unclear how this would signal it has a superior brand in search.”
Quick Action Helps Google Win Friends in Japan – New York Times
Photo by robertodevido.