Street View is digitalizing Japan’s disaster zones

After the March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated the coastal communities of Eastern Japan, we at Google tried to find ways to use our technologies in support of relief activities. This started immediately after the quake with our Person Finder to help locate displaced individuals, and more recently we’ve started projects to spur economic recovery in the affected areas, such as the “YouTube Business Support Channel,” which enables local businesses to promote their products and establishments to a nationwide audience.

We also believe that the Street View feature in Google Maps can be a useful tool to offer street-level imagery of the recovery efforts. Many photographers felt the disaster couldn’t be captured in just one photo or with a single camera, but immersive, 360-degree panoramic images can help people — especially those abroad — better understand the scope of the destruction.

On July 8, we announced that we’ll be driving our Street View cars across major cities (such as Sendai) and coastal cities of the Tohoku region to not only help communicate the current state of the disaster-affected areas, but also to digitally archive the area’s landscapes for future generations. This imagery will help people in Japan and across the world remember and observe the tragedy of March 11, 2011.

In addition to preserving history through Street View, the team in Japan has been busy publishing 360-degree imagery of more than 100 famous sites across Japan through our Street View Partner Program. The places that have partnered with us to share views of their locations on Google Maps include UNESCO world heritage sites Yakushi-ji temple, Toshodai-ji temple, and Kasuga-Taisha shrine in the ancient capital city of Nara. We’re also continuing the Business Photos project in Japan and are working with hundreds of businesses to photograph their interiors, get those images online, and show both local customers and visitors that they are open for business.

Yakushi-ji Temple in Nara, Japan
If you’re interested in directly supporting the ongoing relief effort in Japan, you can find more information regarding the disaster and resources for those in need at our Crisis Response page in English and Japanese.

Mississippi floods: images and data

Emerging as one of the worst flooding events along the U.S. waterway in the past century, the Mississippi River floods of April and May 2011 have caused widespread destruction along the 2,300 mile river system. Historically high water levels from heavy rains and springtime snowmelt have provided no shortage of dramatic scenes — levees breached, downtown areas completely submerged, spillways opened, and more.

The Google Crisis Response team has assembled a collection of flood data including satellite imagery for impacted cities along the river from GeoEye, flood extent and crest data forecasts from the US Army Corps of Engineers (kml) and NOAA’s National Weather Service (kml), and shelter locations from the American Red Cross (kml).

Opened floodgate in Morganza spillway in Louisiana on May 15, 2011.

Cairo, Illinois on May 8, 2011.

This collection of data is available on Google Maps by searching for “Mississippi flooding.” These data can also be accessed within Google Earth by turning on the ‘Places’ layer and flying to the Mississippi river south of Memphis, TN, or by downloading this kml to open in Google Earth.

Earthquake motivates New Zealanders to model their town

Last week, local volunteers in Christchurch and Dunedin New Zealand invested a day of their time learning how to create 3D models using Google SketchUp. The workshops focused on learning how to geo-model, a process that involves creating 3D models of buildings from photographs for display in Google Earth.

The workshop was led by local architect and geo-technology expert Jason Mill of ZNO, who was inspired to organize the events following the recent earthquake in his hometown of Christchurch. As an architect, Jason recognized the value of having a publicly accessible digital model of the city, and has invested considerable time over several years modeling the central business district of Christchurch.

The value of these models took on new meaning when many of the heritage buildings in town disappeared, leaving the community to decide what should stand in their place.

Five hours away, the city of Dunedin was unaffected by the earthquake, but given its large number of heritage buildings, local residents there decided that it shouldn’t assume that they will be there forever. They suddenly felt a greater sense of urgency around creating a historical record of these buildings.

Historic preservation and city planning are two reasons that many people model their town, but there are numerous other benefits. Local business owners are keen to be represented on the 3D map, enabling virtual tourists another means to locate them on the Internet. Downtown organizations responsible for promoting their city are other beneficiaries. Exploring a destination virtually, whether for business or leisure, is becoming as common as reading a web site.

Google supports these workshops because it aligns with our mission to build a comprehensive atlas of the world online. This atlas is a dynamic, collaborative, open platform for visualizing, sharing, and searching geographic information—whether it’s in your local neighborhood or on the other side of the globe.

By providing free authoring tools like SketchUp and Building Maker, we’re making it easy to introduce 3D buildings to the map. Maps are no longer just 2D static images on paper, they’re living reflections of the local world around us. Everyone has the ability to help shape the map and contribute their local knowledge, experiences and points of view. Adding 3D buildings to the map is just one way to achieve that.

Local residents such as those in Christchurch and Dunedin are doing more than just putting their cities on the map, they’re contributing to an atlas of the world, and becoming the curators of the special places that their cities have to offer.

Posted by Bruce Polderman, Product Manager