It’s a sad story, but there’s another one behind it. Yes, a 46-year-old man lay dead and undiscovered, because a police team used Google Maps to set its search boundaries. But there’s a deeper narrative here.
Forget the fact that half the property wasn’t examined – hello Google, that really is some margin of error – and consider this comment in the Independent’s report, instead: “Mr Simon’s body was hidden under thick vegetation at the property … he was discovered in a period of drought when the vegetation had cleared.” Now that’s hardly Google’s fault, is it?
The boundaries were not in the right place. It really is hard for an NMA or an MSE* to keep up with these things. But the importance of vegetation records – tree canopies; species; the spread of flora if not fauna; and the height of plants in all kinds of situations and seasons – cannot be underestimated by police; by planners; and by insurers.
It’s not just forensic analysis that depends on this kind of time-sensitive data. It’s the vital source information needed to project subsidence on an individual property basis, for one, and the likelihood of damage caused by ingress of tree roots (which may be a slightly different claim), for another.
As we castigate Goliath for getting its lines in the wrong place, spare a thought for the many Davids capturing this information – day and night – who don’t see it being used, often enough.
By the way: this isn’t a GoogleMap. It’s an 1801 rendering of Australia by a French cartographer. Not perfect, but it ain’t bad.
*MSE – Mighty Search Engine