Google app
Google to show emergency contacts numbers and road closures in wake of disastersReuters

Google has launched a new service called 'SOS Alerts', providing crucial information at the top of search results and in the Maps app during times of crisis and natural disaster.

During a time of crisis, users who Google thinks might be affected (perhaps due to their location, or search topic) will see maps, top stories, emergency contact numbers and translations of useful phrases at the top of their search results – all signposted with a new SOS Alert icon.

If Google knows you are close to the affected area, a push notification will be sent to your phone to alert you about the crisis and provide useful information.

For those located far from the crisis, searching for it or for that location will bring up more information and links, such as donation opportunities, at the top of the search results.

As for the Google Maps app, this will also show its own alerts. Tap the icon and information such as help lines and related websites will be displayed. Real-time updates like road closures, traffic and public transport updates will also be shown on the map.

Yossi Matias, Google's vice president of engineering, said in a blog post: "As we've developed our crisis response products, we've worked closely with organisations and government agencies that are on the front lines of relief efforts, including the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), the Philippines Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration and many others."

Robert Glenn, director at Fema, said: "Radio and television were once the only channels to quickly provide information in an emergency, but the internet and mobile phones have become increasingly important."