Crowd-sourced maps help disaster management

Crowd-sourced maps help disaster management
Open Street Map is a crowd-sourced, free, online map of the
world inspired by Wikipedia. Search and rescue teams used it
during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Over a million people are
now contributing to it and it has potential to grow. A free online
map of the world created by users is helping developing nations
become more resilient to disasters, the Open Source Convention
in Portland, United States, heard on 22-26 July).
Inspired by the crowd-sourcing success of Wikipedia in the 2010
earthquake in Haiti, Open Street Map (OSM) set up in 2004 in
response to the limited online map data for many parts of the
world has over a million people are now signed up and contributing to OSM’s world map. “The earthquake
happened and the OSM community started spontaneously mapping. And soon it became the most accurate
road map of the capital, Port-au-Prince.” Search and rescue teams, as well as the UN and World Bank used
the maps, which included locations of people displaced, health facilities, and basic infrastructure was used.
Users can trace new routes for the map, using portable GPS (Global Positioning System) devices that can
upload the data to OSM. More recently, users have been doing mapping work from their homes by looking at
satellite imagery of particular areas to use as a template for updating the routes in OSM from their
computers.
Kate Chapman, director of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, an initiative that applies the principles of
open source to humanitarian response and economic development, told the convention that her
organization’s work using OSM had helped Indonesians prepare for the floods that hit Jakarta earlier this
year by pinpointing the location of floods and information centres. “The one thing you know about Jakarta, is
it’s full of people,” she said. “The other thing it has a lot of is flooding… We brought urban village leaders
together with university students, and sat down with them and asked them ‘where is the important
infrastructure in your village?’ And we started mapping.”
Harry Wood, from the Open Street Map Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that supports the OSM
project, says OSM is a useful tool for aid agencies during disasters, for a number of reasons. “They can go to
OSM as an easy-to-access data source, which can be updated minute by minute”, “It’s high-level detail,
capturing road networks in particular, so it gets used as a base map by these organisations. They then lay
markers on top of OSM for temporary situational updates, for example if there’s a relief centre which has
been set up, or death toll statistics for the area.” More recently, OSM mappers have been responding to
June’s floods in Uttarakhand, northern India, where 5,700 people presumed dead. Many are working
remotely using satellite data to update OSM on roads and villages in those areas, which can show whether
they are still accessible for trucks delivering aid. However, Chapman says OSM needs to become more userfriendly
to fulfill its potential. “It started out being very technical, so you had to really want to get involved”.
There are also language barriers in the documentation and software. However, the situation is improving,
and over time it will be possible for more and more people to get involved.” Link to Open Street Map.

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