When there’s a developing incident we all want the best “situational awareness” we can get. And it’s inevitable that the news stations are going to call you long before you have a handle on the facts. So, as good crisis communicators, we find work arounds. In the “old days” you could only hope to have access to a fire department detail map or something that gives you more information than just street names. Today, access to the Google suite of applications allows you to almost be there in the middle of the action! So, think of a breaking news incident such as a house fire, shooting, car accident, toxic chemical spill, or political protest. You’d want to know what the traffic situation is around the scene; what the structures look like; find alternatives routes you can give the public, and better understand what it looks like in the area.
Enter another free online tool called – Personal Interactive Travel Agent. It’s a useful Google Maps mashup. It’s billed for “drivers,” but it has great resources for Public Information Officers or anyone who has to talk to the media. It shows important information along the driving route entered by the user. This information includes detailed directions, traffic data, businesses and weather forecasts. Just click anywhere on the map and get all available services and information for that point. You can filter results by the service type (food, shopping, hotels, tourist attractions, gas stations) and also search for something more specific.
Bookmark this site as a good resource for an emerging crisis. You may only know the address and a few details, but if you get on this site and look at the street view, you can see what else is in the area. Now you’re an instant expert! Imagine that phone interview on the local radio station could be so much better because you took a few minutes to lookup the map and see what’s around. Even though you may not know how much toxic chemicals spilled or how many people are still trapped in the burning building – you can at least talk about what’s in the area and potential escape routes while you’re waiting for more details from the scene. Very helpful!
Here’s the link to Personal Interactive Travel Agent