The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Finding People In the Nepal Earthquake Zone

Google, Facebook, activate people finder tools

1 min read
Finding People In the Nepal Earthquake Zone
Photo: Craig Ruttle/AP Photo

Is my friend/relative/colleague OK? After a disaster like Saturday’s Nepal earthquake, that’s a question people around the world with any kind of connection to the disaster zone have been asking.

Both Google and Facebook have in recent years developed tools intended to make that question easier to answer, and both companies quickly turned their tools on in the wake of the Nepal quake.

imgImage: Google

Google activated its “Person Finder” missing persons tracker. A concerned friend or relative types in the name of the person they are looking for into a search box or texts "search" to 6040 in Nepal, 91-9773300000 in India, or 1 650-800-3978 in the United States. On the other end, people can submit information about someone in the earthquake zone—including a description and whether or not the person is known to be safe. At this writing, Google had 5900 records active.

imgImage: Facebook

Facebook is asking users to let their friends know that they are safe via “Safety Check,” launched last year. When the company turns this tool on, Facebook’s servers determine which users are in the disaster area, considering their listed home city, last location identified by the company’s “Nearby Friends” technology if they use that app, or the identity of the city in which users last used the Internet to access Facebook. The system then pushes a request to them asking them to click on a button to indicate that they are OK. People outside the disaster area can use Safety Check to find out which friends are in the area and whether or not they have checked in as safe.

The Conversation (0)

Why the Internet Needs the InterPlanetary File System

Peer-to-peer file sharing would make the Internet far more efficient

12 min read
An illustration of a series
Carl De Torres

When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, the world made an unprecedented shift to remote work. As a precaution, some Internet providers scaled back service levels temporarily, although that probably wasn’t necessary for countries in Asia, Europe, and North America, which were generally able to cope with the surge in demand caused by people teleworking (and binge-watching Netflix). That’s because most of their networks were overprovisioned, with more capacity than they usually need. But in countries without the same level of investment in network infrastructure, the picture was less rosy: Internet service providers (ISPs) in South Africa and Venezuela, for instance, reported significant strain.

But is overprovisioning the only way to ensure resilience? We don’t think so. To understand the alternative approach we’re championing, though, you first need to recall how the Internet works.

Keep Reading ↓Show less