The earthquake that hit Port-au-Prince, Haiti on a Tuesday afternoon in January 2010, forever changed the way that emergency responders use crowdsource mapping to provide need-based aid.
According to a U.S. News Editorial about crowdsourcing in various disaster affected communities, volunteers from all over the world began collecting data information from several sources coming out of Haiti, including SMS, Twitter, and news websites. With enough specific geographic information, these sources were used by volunteers to annotate a live map on OpenStreetMaps (OSM) to aid emergency responders on the ground in Haiti. We have been using OSM in class this week, and the sheer pace that these volunteers traced roads for 24 hours a day remotely from the disaster point was nothing short of amazing. These annotated OSM maps were vital to the success of the U.S. State Department’s SMS relief program’s short code 4636. Texting 4636,“INFO,” meant that anyone within the Digicel mobile network in Haiti could text “I need water” or “I need medical help” and their location, and these messages were routed to aid organizations and emergency responders like Red Cross on the ground for free. The maps that the volunteers filled in on OSM were essential to NGO emergency responder’s execution of relief aid to any area requested.
The success of this collaboration spurred the formation of the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT). HOT workers gather base data on disaster-prone regions remotely and on the ground from available satellite imagery to improve disaster preparedness in that region. Some HOTOSM (HOT + OSM = HOTOSM) project sites include Somalia, Cote D’Ivoire, Mongolia, and Indonesia. From my nerdy interest in plate tectonics, I know that Somalia and Indonesia are their own plate boundaries, which make them prone to earthquakes and volcanoes. But after researching their disaster statistics on PreventionWeb (a detailed disaster reduction resource), I learned that more deaths occur in Somalia from floods and epidemics than from earthquakes. I can now understand how the unique disaster-development challenges in each region motivates volunteers to negotiate access to imagery and trace roads for hours on end, like we are doing in Nepal and like HOT volunteers doing in Somalia. Just for our own motivation for the our HOTOSM project, I researched the disaster statistics in Nepal. The most common disasters that affect and kill people are storms and floods. But wildfires bare most of the economic burden to Nepalese development.