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Online Mapmakers Helping Red Cross Save Lives in Philippines

Online Mapmakers Helping Red Cross Save Lives in Philippines

  • How Online Mapmakers Are Helping the Red Cross Save Lives in the Philippines

    Volunteers across the world are building the digital infrastructure for the organization's Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts

    From the Atlantic Monthly. Excerpt:

    an incredible piece of technology, a worldwide, crowd-sourced humanitarian collaboration made possible by the Internet. 

    What is it? It’s a highly detailed map of the areas affected by super typhoon Haiyan, and it mostly didn’t exist three days ago, when the storm made landfall.

    Since Saturday, more than 400 volunteers have made nearly three quarters of a million additions to a free, online map of areas in and around the Philippines. Those additions reflect the land before the storm, but they will help Red Cross workers and volunteers make critical decisions after it about where to send food, water, and supplies.

    The changes were made to OpenStreetMap (OSM), a sort of Wikipedia of maps. OSM aims to be a complete map of the world, free to use and editable by all. Created in 2004, it now has over a million users.

    The American Red Cross, internationally, recently began to use open source software and data in all of its projects. Any software or data compiled by the Red Cross are now released under an open-source or share-alike license.

    While Open Street Map has been used in humanitarian crises before, the super typhoon Haiyan is the first time the Red Cross has coordinated its use and the volunteer effort around it.

    The 410 volunteers who have edited OSM in the past three days aren’t all mapmaking professionals. Organized by the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team on Twitter, calls went out for the areas of the Philippines in the path of the storm to be mapped.

    What does that mapping look like? Mostly, it involves “tracing” roads into OSM using satellite data. The OSM has a friendly editor which underlays satellite imagery—on which infrastructure like roads are clearly visible—beneath the image of the world as captured by OSM. 

  • Results of crisis mapping efforts: Typhoon Haiyan / Yolanda Crisis and Relief Map, Published by GBG/GDG/GSA Communities of the Philippines. Crowdsourced map of evacuation centers, crisis areas, and relief drop zone areas in relation to Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda.

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