CRISIS RESPONSE

How Mexico City residents used Google to share real-time information on collapsed buildings after the Puebla earthquake

5-minute read
Some of the Verificado team outside together in Mexico City.

Mexico City, Mexico

7:19 a.m., September 19, 1985 On September 19, 1985, the Cocos Plate and North American Plate bumped up and slid under one another, causing a seismic event with energy equivalent to the explosion of over 1,000 nuclear bombs. At 7:19 a.m., a magnitude 8.0 earthquake rocked Mexico City. Over 400 buildings collapsed, an estimated 10,000 people died, and more than 5 million residents were left without electricity and potable water. It was the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.

Every September 19 since, an earthquake drill is conducted by the Mexican government: A warning booms over loudspeakers strategically positioned throughout the city. In 2017, 32 years after the 1985 quake, the drill took place at 11 a.m. local time.

13:14:19, Sept. 19, 2017

Just two hours after the drill

Mexico City shook again

The magnitude 7.1 earthquake rattled the city for 20 seconds.

A crushed car.
A collapsed brick wall.
A person sorting through rubble.
A large bookcase falling over.
A building sinking into the ground.
A partially collapsed building.

1:14pm An earthquake warning system installed by the government after the 1985 quake gave residents a 20-second warning, but many people thought the siren was merely a continuation of the yearly drill that had occurred two hours prior. It very quickly became clear that this wasn’t the case.

A portrait of Jerónimo Esquinca

Jerónimo Esquinca

Member, #Verificado19S

Listen in Spanish

0:00 / 0:00

I had been in South Sudan for nine months. I went back to Mexico for a break, and I forgot that it was September 19. The drill, you know? I had sat down, took out my computer, and the drill started. After that, I go back upstairs, the same thing: I get comfortable, sit down at my table, open my computer, and at that moment, I felt the strongest earthquake I had ever felt.

A portrait of Sergio Beltrán García

Sergio Beltrán García

First Map Creator, #Verificado19S

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Everything was shaking. When I left the building, I saw something like this cloud of dust forming about a block and a half away. I saw the front of a building had collapsed. I’ve lived in Mexico City for 28, 29 years. I have experienced many, many earthquakes, but I’ve never seen anything collapsing. So right away it was very clear this earthquake was unlike any other.

A group of the Verificado team members together in Mexico City.

A few of the hundreds of #Verificado19S members who helped with rescue efforts after the 2017 earthquake.

The next day Misinformation was rampant in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, and while citizens were using social media to share what they knew and what they were seeing, people still felt uninformed. Sergio Beltrán García, who had used Google My Maps many times over the years, had an idea to centralize information by creating a map that included where buildings had collapsed, where shelters were located, and more.

A portrait of Sergio Beltrán García

Sergio Beltrán Garcia

First Map Creator, #Verificado19S

What I started to do was to create a My Maps pinpointing areas that I had verified through accounts I trusted on Twitter. If more than a couple of accounts matched up – bam! I’d pinpoint it on my map.

Sergio’s version of the map quickly went viral, with hundreds of fellow residents joining forces to help aid rescue efforts. A collective called #Verificado19S formed with a singular purpose: to verify crowdsourced information and make it accessible to everyone in real time.

I see a collapsed building

#Verificado19S

Do you know of a building collapse, damage, gas leak, or something else? Fill out the form below, and we will work to verify the information.

Kind of damage
  • I see a collapsed building

  • I see major building damage

  • I see minor building damage

  • I known of a gas leak

  • I see something else

Submit

earth quake photo

Reporting firsthand information

People first filled out a Google Form or contacted #Verificado19S with information on the location of things like building collapses, gas leaks, collection centers, and shelters.

Verifying the reports

Members of the #Verificado19S team then visited as many locations as possible to verify the information was accurate or speak with someone who was there. Information needed to be verified by two primary sources. Crowdsourced information with a clear description was also reported.

Publishing to the map

Once verified by the team, the location and information would be added to the #Verificado19S layer on the Google Crisis Map.

Updating in real time

The Crisis Map updated dynamically, giving people a real-time look at areas to avoid and where to go to donate or acquire food, shelter, and other services. #Verificado19S also used Google Maps, Forms, and Sheets to coordinate supply requests and delivery.

Collapse

Major Damage

Damage

Shelter

A portrait of Lina Ornelas

Lina Ornelas

Head of Government Affairs and Public Policy, Google Mexico

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The updated map was used to report damages, collapsed buildings, gas leaks, evacuated buildings, help centers, their needs ― what was left over, what was missing ― where shelters were located, shelter capacity, whether they had showers or space for kids. We added it all to the map, using layers. It was so useful, because at places that had too much water, people could go and transfer it to where they needed water.

A portrait of Sergio Beltrán García

Sergio Beltrán García

First Map Creator, #Verificado19S

Listen in Spanish

0:00 / 0:00

At the end of the day it was like we were running against the clock to rescue people who were trapped amid the debris. Every half an hour that went by, we potentially had in our hands the lives of 1, 2, 100, I don’t know how many people. They were just waiting to be rescued.

Verificado team members in Mexico City. Verificado team members in Mexico City.
Verificado team members in Mexico City. Verificado team members in Mexico City.

After the earthquake, #Verificado19S codified its learnings about how technology can play a role in emergency response into a playbook to be used for future natural disasters and emergencies. For everyone involved, the experience was both life-changing and eye-opening.

A portrait of Jerónimo Esquinca

Jerónimo Esquinca

Member, #Verificado19S

Listen in Spanish

0:00 / 0:00

No one person is Verificado; we were all part of the group, but no single person represents Verificado.

A portrait of Ana Givaudan Diaz

Ana Givaudan Diaz

Humanitarian, #Verificado19S

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0:00 / 0:00

One of the things that I think many people realized is that Mexicans unite under two things: soccer and disasters. For five days, Mexicans forgot all our differences. For five days, we were all one under the same cause, and that was, I think, one of the best and most beautiful things that came from this experience.

How you can prepare for an emergency

How you can prepare for an emergency

In cooperation with the Google Crisis Response team and the Red Cross, we’ve collected tools and tips to help you prepare for an emergency.

Additional resources and detailed earthquake safety tips from the Red Cross can be found here. You can also learn more about what Google does to keep you safe during an emergency here.

Add emergency contacts.

Add emergency info to your lock screen.

Learn more

Download maps to navigate offline.

Download local maps to navigate offline.

Learn more

Share your location with others.

Share your location with others.

Learn more

Upload vital documents to the cloud.

Upload and store vital documents to the cloud.

Learn more

Assemble an emergency kit.

Assemble an emergency preparedness kit.

Learn more

Get Red Cross Emergency apps for iOS or Android.

Get Red Cross Emergency Preparedness Apps for iOS or Android.

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