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Help Puerto Rico Recover by Mapping Damaged Areas

Sarah Laskow - Atlas Obscura
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October 9, 2017

Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team #mapthedifference (Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team)

The Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team was initially organized after the Haiti earthquake in 2010. At the time, the maps available of the country were on paper, and mostly out of date. A loose network of volunteers started using OpenStreetMap, which uses open-source geospatial data, and satellite imagery to create better, digitally available maps of the area. In the wake of that earthquake, hundreds of maps were made with the aim of helping people on the ground—too many to be helpful, actually. In the years since, emergency disaster mappers have worked to coordinate their responses to provide more limited, more directed, higher quality maps—so the disaster response workers might be able to use them.

In this case, the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team works with partner organizations in the field to identify real needs. It also has a system for helping coordinate thousands of volunteers, so they’re not duplicating efforts. “We can have people looking over hundreds, sometimes thousands of square kilometers of area in a short amount of time,” says executive director Tyler Radford. “You add all those bite-sized chunks together and it’s a lot of area quickly.”

Here’s what this work looks like in practice. On the left is a map before volunteers went through and marked all the buildings on satellite images of Añasco on the western side of the island. Their results are on the right.

A section of northwestern Puerto Rico before and after volunteers mapped the buildings (OpenStreetMap contributors)

... Helping out with this effort is easy. You just need to sign up for an OpenStreetMaps account, spend five to ten minutes learning to use the simple tools, and follow a set of simple instructions. (i.e., “Simply draw round the outline of the building and tag them as ‘building’.”) And there’s still plenty more work to be done.

Read the whole article at Atlas Obscura

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