Google Maps is most often used to show us how to get from point A to point B. But over the years, this service has evolved into a much greater piece of technology -- especially in times of disaster.
Hurricane Sandy recently barreled up the U.S. East Coast and made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29. Fires blazed in Queens, while floods knocked out power for lower Manhattan and ravaged the Jersey Shore beyond recognition. In the aftermath of this epic storm, Google Maps is providing information and assisting in relief efforts.
Several days before Sandy made landfall, Google released a "Superstorm Sandy" CrisisMap on Oct. 25, highlighting roadwork advisories, fuel inventory statuses, power outage information and more. The tool was created by Google's Crisis Response team, an organization which was formed after Hurricane Katrina ripped through the South in 2005. This group has also responded to past disasters, such as the U.S. wildfires in the summer of 2012 and the Japan tsunami in early 2011.
Take a look at a section of the Hurricane Sandy CrisisMap below:
And for New York-specific information, Google has created a similar map to aid the city's relief efforts (seen here).
Google has already updated satellite images of areas devastated by Hurricane Sandy. You can view the new Google Earth satellite images on the crisis map by clicking the box laelled "Post-Sandy Imagery" in the map's right-hand panel. Images reflect damage done along the U.S. East Coast and in Haiti.
Google's mapping service is an open source format that lets users "collaborate" on maps that serve a particular purpose. Volunteer organizations are using Google Maps as a way to notify the public about what locations need specific donations or a few extra hands to assist in cleanup.
The "customized" map below illustrates the efforts of Occupy Sandy, a group that seeks "to foster communication between individuals, Working Groups and local General Assemblies," in "the spirit" of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Below is an example of a customized Google Map tied to this organization:
The "Hurricane Sandy Relief Volunteer Opportunities" map shown below lets users comment or "drop pins" and share places for prospective volunteers (or those in need). It also isn't specific to one organization, and currently list over 30 places to volunteer. See an example of this collaborative map below:
While Google Maps has proven itself to be a valuable tool throughout the last several weeks, it's worth noting the above functions are not accessible within the Google Maps mobile app. Similarly, Apple Maps (only available on devices running iOS 6) hasn't offered much in terms of hurricane relief. Apple's new mapping feature was released with iOS 6 in September, and has since been the cause of much controversy. CEO Tim Cook apologized to customers about the half-baked service, and the imminent departure of Apple's iOS guru Scott Forstall is said to be over his refusal to sign an apology for the app.
The Huffington Post's Bianca Bosker has previously noted that Apple Maps currently lacks the same expansive knowledge that Google has built into its desktop Maps service.
"Like Siri, Apple Maps offers zero indication that a Category 1 hurricane is barreling toward the coast," she stated prior to the storm. "Searching Apple Maps on the iPhone for 'Hurricane Sandy' turns up the Sandy Gap Church of God in Sumerco, W.Va."
If you were affected by Hurricane Sandy, have you been using Google Map's services? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, or tweet us at [@HuffPostTech].
The Huffington Post is eager for insights from our community, especially people with experience in power, infrastructure and engineering, on the adequacy of emergency preparation in advance of Hurricane Sandy, and the degree to which past disasters have informed adequate planning and construction. Please send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org with insights and suggestions for the important questions that need to be asked of relevant private sector and government officials, and point us toward stories that need to be pursued.