Monthly Archives: April 2014

How Crowdmapping Attempts to Stay Ahead of Natural Disasters

By Adam Bradbury

When an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010 it left unimaginable destruction in its wake. Relief and aid workers scrambled to provide assistance to those in need, but a lack of knowledge about the layout of Port-Au-Prince slowed aid efforts. One of the many lessons learned after the 2010 Haiti earthquake was the value of up-to-date maps in response to humanitarian crises.

OpenStreetMap is an online community of mappers that are committed to improving the state of global mapping. Following the earthquake in Haiti, many of OpenStreetMap volunteers got together and created a detailed map of Port-Au-Price in order to provide valuable contextual information for aid workers on the ground. The first of its kind in Haiti.

haiti map

*Open Street Map, Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Years later, when the powerful typhoon, Haiyan, struck the Philippines in 2013 over 400 member of Open Street Map came together, and in real time, were able to update maps in a matter of hours. Lessons from the earthquake in Haiti and other humanitarian crises advanced mapping efforts throughout the aid relief campaign. Below is a picture of Tacloban, Philippines before and after the mapping project was completed.

 phillipines map

* How Online Mapmakers Are Helping the Red Cross Save Lives in the Philippines, Robinson Meyer


In early March of 2014, the U.S. Department of State inserted itself into the game of crowdsourced mapping by introducing MapGive, which builds upon existing crowdsourced mapping efforts made by groups like OpenStreetMap. The engagement of the U.S. Department of State with the crowdmapping  movement is in an attempt to assist in humanitarian responses, disaster risk reduction, and sustainable development. Having a detailed map ahead of the crises, instead of in response to one is now the goal.

What many don’t realize is despite Google Maps perceived omnipresence in the digital mapping arena, many of the most at-risk communities for natural disaster lack any sort of accurate mapping information. The logistical nightmare of aid relief without accurate maps speaks for itself.  MapGive is an effort to change that.

The U.S. Department of State, through the Imagery to the Crowd (Ittc) initiative, publishes high-resolution commercial satellite imagery where volunteers can easily map them into the larger OpenStreetMap project. MapGive combines the muscle of the U.S. government with the passion of the global mapping community to improve future humanitarian efforts.

The expansion of digital mapping has the potential to improve the relief efforts in some of the most geographically volatile regions on Earth. Mapping these regions is a worthwhile goal, not only to improve the efficiency of first responders to inevitable humanitarian crises, but also to place, for the first time, many communities ‘on the map’, as it were, where previously overlooked.