Many of you may not be aware of the incessant once in a hundred years kind of rains and consequent flooding that recently plagued the southern Indian coastal city of Chennai.
And then, maybe, many of you are aware since given the globalized nature of the world economy you or one of your vendors most likely has operations in Chennai(esp. if you are in the BPO, tech or automotive sectors).
One thing that struck me as sitting in the US, I interacted with friends who were marooned in the city was the big role played by social media - facebook, WhatsApp and the like in enabling people to stay connected and in ensuring that help and resources are directed to the most needy. On the flip side social media though helpful was also rife with rumors and misinformation. Internet connectivity was also a problem  as a sizable portion of the population there still relies on "wired" internet - the cable breaks and power outages did not help. 
A picture can say it better than thousand words! A missing piece of critical information for both the stranded people and the first responders is  real-time imagery of flood affected areas to comprehend which streets are open, which areas are submerged and how the floodwaters are moving. Google Maps can play a big role in addressing that gap. Currently I believe the satellite imagery or street-views in Google Maps are refreshed after long periods of time.In crisis situations like these the satellite imagery could be updated more frequently perhaps even near real-time so that users have the latest information. With the correct updated maps being available I am sure the user-community will crowd-source to tag them with relevant highlights - roads/bridges to avoid , drinking water stocking points , food stocks etc.
Of course Google will need to allocate some resources to ensuring that their satellites - "birds" (or those of their imagery providers) get positioned appropriately. Crises like these could be another opportunity to leverage Google'sLoon Project. Those stratospheric balloons instead of just enabling internet connectivity could also provide real-time imagery.
Rather than this being just charity, it would make sound business sense too:
  • Make Google's service more "sticky". People are not likely to forget the tools/technologies/companies which helped them in time of crisis.
  • People will continue to visit these sites, use these apps even during times of crisis when visits to other kinds of sites are likely to fall. So Google's quantum of "eyeballs" or "clicks" will not fall.
  • Insurance companies and the like would be willing to pay for access to more near real-time information.
Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Sundar Pichai: Can you hear me?