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September 14, 2011

Internet is resilient during natural disasters: Google

Adds new featuers to Docs, Sites and Calendar to improve accessibility for blind

By CBR Staff Writer

Google has said that people turn to the Internet primarily to share information about a crisis even while the traffic drops temporarily immediately following the crisis.

Google Crisis Response product manager Ryan Falor wrote in an official blogpost that search statistics for several natural disasters provided some key insights into the phenomenon.

Falor wrote, "We see two consistent trends in search behavior and internet use in the affected areas: a substantial (and often dominant) proportion of searches are directly related to the crises; and people continue to search and access information online even while traffic and search levels drop temporarily during and immediately following the crises."

While in some cases internet access is restricted due to infrastructure failures, generally Internet Service Providers continue to provide connectivity and users take advantage of it, said Falor.

"The findings show just how resilient the internet can be in times of crises, compared to other infrastructure," added Falor.

The company aslo revealed that the week of this year’s tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, searches for terms related to help, safety and recovery were significantly up from normal levels.

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The company said, "[Disaster relief] was 2054 percent greater than normal and [FEMA], [American Red Cross], and [National Weather Service] showed increases of 400-1000%. Despite the tragedy, in which 25 percent of the town was destroyed and 75 percent damaged, we still saw search traffic at 58 percent of normal levels the day of the tornado, and an immediate recovery toward normal Internet traffic occured within a day of the event."

Similar trennds were noticed during the Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, LA, USA, in August 2005, and Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, Northern Coast, Japan, in March, 2011, said Google.

The company has also added new features to improve accessibility for the blind.

Google Accessibility technical lead T V Raman wrote in a blog, "we’ve now significantly improved keyboard shortcuts and support for screen readers in several Google applications, including Google Docs, Google Sites and Google Calendar."

Raman said that blind students (like blind people of all ages) face a unique set of challenges on the Web.

He wrote, "Members of the blind community rely on screen readers to tell them verbally what appears on the screen. They also use keyboard shortcuts to do things that would otherwise be accomplished with a mouse, such as opening a file or highlighting text."

"In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll continue to improve our products for blind users. We believe that people who depend on assistive technologies deserve as rich and as productive an experience on the web as sighted users, and we’re working to help that become a reality."

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