How Boston’s Marathon Victims Found Missing Loved Ones With Google Person Finder – How You Can Use It Too

SMS Text

The City of Boston’s response to the bombings at the 117 Boston Marathon serves as a model for how communities and emergency responders deploy coherent systems of communication during times of disaster. During such tragedies, the ability to connect and communicate with those who are potentially missing or hurt, is critical to ensuring that one’s family and friends are safe or able to receive medical attention.

google person finder

Familiarity with existing tools that that allow direct communication to take place between lost or dispersed individuals makes it so that in the event of a disaster, people are able to respond in both a calm and under control manner.

Google Person Finder is a free tool that allows users to either enter the name of a person they are looking for or their own personal information for those who searching.  At the time of the explosions, dozens of family and friends of Boston Marathon runners immediately jumped onto Google Person Finder to search for potentially injured or lost participants and spectators.

Kelly Manning of Saratoga Springs, NY, used the application to track the progression and whereabouts of her daughter Samantha when the explosions went off. Google Person Finder immediately located Samantha and let Kelly know that her daughter was still moving before finally connecting an hour later.

“The police had cut off cell phones from making any calls,” Manning said.

“We tried calling her for a half hour without any luck. If it wasn’t for Google Person Finder, we would have had no idea if she was ok and safe.”

What is Google Person Finder?

Developed as a response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010, Google Person Finder is an open source web application that allows individuals to register and search for lost loved ones affected by a natural disaster or catastrophic event.

The application is a part of the ‘ Project’ that aims to enhance digital technology in ways that make critical information and communication more accessible in times of disaster.  Along with enabling individuals to search for potentially missing or injured persons, the application also provides images and information on specific locations for shelters, road conditions, and power outages. All submitted information, including photos and personal bio descriptions, are manually transcribed and indexed in Google Person Finder.

Is It Actually Helpful? is it actually helpful

After the two bombs detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Google Person Finder immediately began tracking over 5,000 lost individuals. Since its debut in 2010, it has served over 800,000 lost individuals throughout the world from South America to Asia.

A number of high-profile disasters that Google Person Finder is connected to are:

  • Haiti Earthquake, 2010 – Magnitude 7 earthquake that killed over 220,000 individuals

  • Chili Earthquake, 2010 – Magnitude 8.8 earthquake struck the coast of central Chile causing blackouts for 93% of the country and causing over $30 billion in damages

  • Christchurch Earthquake, 2011 – Magnitude 6.3 earthquake in New Zealand that took the lives of over 185 individuals; one of the country’s deadliest peacetime disasters

  • Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, 2011 – Massive earthquake off the coast of Japan caused significant damage and tsunami flooding and displaced over 340,000 individuals

How do you use it?


Using Google Person Finder during a crisis situation is easy for the most casual internet browser.

How to search for missing person(s)

1. For those who are searching for someone lost, simply type in either the exact or partial name of the person.


2. Once a name has been entered, a message will instantly appear alerting you to whether the person has been located or not.


How to alert others of missing person(s)

1. If someone has information on the whereabouts or health of a missing person, users can click on the icon labeled, “I have information about someone.”


2. They are then directed to a landing page where information about the missing person, their health, and/or their location is submitted into a global registry.



Julian Connors
Julian is an experienced search marketing director who has developed complex, wide-scale search and social campaigns for brands that include: P&G, Crest, Papa Johns, Staples,... Read Full Bio
Julian Connors
Subscribe to SEJ!
Get our weekly newsletter from SEJ's Founder Loren Baker about the latest news in the industry!
  • A1brandz

    This amazing tool and I really appreciate Google for this. Hope this may help people in boston to find their near dear ones.
    May GOD bless ! every one and bring peace in the life of those who have been the victim of this heinous incident.

    • Jason Corrigan

      Thanks for the comment! I agree that this can be useful at times of disaster where traditional forms of communication are not accessible.

      I was at the finish line ten minutes before everything happened and my thoughts and prayers go out to all of the victims and their friends and family.

  • Paul

    This is a great article and highlights a great example of the positive things that social networks and modern technology can produce. I have a few friends in the Boston area who actually used Google Person Finder to see if anyone had been picked up for any reason. Great stuff!!!

  • Larry

    Great post Jason and I love that you have brought attention to a horrible situation and how people can respond.
    Google Person Finder began in 2010 but Google has offered numerous tracking tools since Katrina in 2004/05.

  • Mark

    Is there any anecdotal or other evidence that anyone used Google Person Finder to find a missing relative or friend and be reunited with them? The articles says it collected records of over 5000 persons, but what happened next?

    I’ve seen this tool used time and again and it provides a cathartic bulletin board so people can feel they have done something. I’ve never seen anything that suggests that families have been reunited because of this tool.

    The American Red Crosses Safe and Well site better protects the privacy, identity and location of individuals and is run by the agency responsible for mass care after disasters.


  • Jessica

    Actually, I am a Boston resident and I used Google Person Finder to locate my best friend’s step-sister and mother after the bombs went off.

    Without it, I wouldn’t have known where they were and calling local hospitals would have been pointless due to the Hippa laws.

    I don’t know think the author or anyone is saying “one is better than the other”, just that this particular tool was used, it helped 5,000 people, and that’s that.

    • Jason Corrigan

      I am sorry that your friend had to go through that, along with so many others!

      I understand Mark’s point but as Jessica points out, I am not saying it is better than other tools, just that it exists and people can use it during such times.

      Thank you both for taking the time to comment and I love your thoughts!

  • Tory Reiss

    Sometime…. I just want to say thanks, Google 🙂