Google's Person Finder tool is not new. It was originally created after the quake in Haiti, so people could find loved ones and see if they were okay. It's since been used in other disasters, including the recent quake in New Zealand. So when the Japanese quake hit, Google adapted it again and had it running within an hour. We talk to Prem Ramaswami, product manager for the Google Crisis Response team.
Other sites, including the Red Cross and the New York Times, have had similar tools in times of emergency but there has been a pooling of efforts in recent years. Google, having a long history of aggregating information and making it available, eventually took on the task of gathering and sharing names online. Person Finder appears on Google's Crisis Response website, which features up to date news, video, photographs, maps, and how to make donations.
That site also has updates from people using a platform called Ushahidi. It's open source software aimed at engendering crowdsourced information collection, visualization, and mapping. We reached Shu Higashi at his home near Tokyo. He's had an Ushahidi based site up and running for a while now but once the quake hit, the site kicked into high gear and has become a nerve center for people sharing information and resources. Higashi isn't with a government office or big media organization. He's just a guy on the internet.