We don’t know when disaster strikes but we know that everyone—individuals, organizations, and companies—can act already today to contribute to disaster resilience and recovery. Here are some examples of how the mapping community has come together to support disaster-related activities that save lives.
Many parts of the world are strongly affected by natural disasters. Some of the recent examples are the hurricanes in the US and the Caribbean, the earthquakes in Mexico, and the flooding in Bangladesh. While we can’t prevent disasters, we can work to prevent and relieve the consequences.
For disaster resilience and recovery work, maps are a necessity. The organizations around OpenStreetMap and the volunteers of OpenStreetMap have been making incredible efforts to improve maps in the areas that they are most needed. For example, in a matter of days, almost 190,000 edits were made to respond to the Mexican earthquake on OpenStreetMap.
A lot of disaster-affected areas still don’t have proper maps. Often, basic features like roads and buildings are missing. It’s absolutely crucial to get those down, even in broad strokes. Projects such as Missing Maps coordinate map creation in those areas with the OpenStreetMap community, using tools like the HOT Tasking Manager.
Aerial imagery is the most common data source to make map edits but it might be challenging to get all the details from these images. It is helpful to use a multitude of data and it’s always worth checking whether in addition to aerial imagery, street-level images are available.
For example, street-level imagery could be helpful in mapping tasks such as this one in Nepal, where "buildings along the road are probably shops or little stores, but they also may be houses"*, to get an additional perspective from the ground level to help with your judgement. For this one in Bangladesh or this one in Mexico, a street-level view can help determine the road type and/or whether a road exists at all under a stretch of trees.
The problem is that for a lot of these places, street-level views are not yet available. The seriousness of the situation makes not only volunteers and NGOs but also corporations act in time of crises. A good recent example is Microsoft sharing street-level imagery from the areas affected by the hurricanes in the US. This imagery covers the pre-disaster period and is important for recovery work and later damage assessment.
The other side of the coin is collecting imagery post-disaster to document and assess damage. According to a research project from Ecuador, virtual surveys can help do damage assessment more efficiently. As a response to the earthquake, volunteers in Mexico City, Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico, mobilised to collect documentation from the ground. CompassData has been capturing post-hurricane images of Florida. The Red Cross recently captured the hurricane-affected areas in Dominica. All these images are available to the public on Mapillary for recovery work in affected areas.
360° post-hurricane images of Key West captured by CompassData with a Trimble MX7 camera
While acknowledging the value of all these contributions in times of crisis, we can’t underestimate the importance of both map editing and ground-level documenting already beforehand. Individuals, governments, NGOs, and commercial entities all play an important role in this. An individual capturing in a non-organized way, with no specific purpose in mind at the time, can help save someone’s life someday. A government, NGO, or commercial actor might capture street-level imagery for a completely different purpose than disaster mapping but can share these to a collaborative platform and support relief efforts.
No matter the reason why you have street-level imagery or might capture some, we encourage you to share your data. There’s a lot of imagery that could be made available to OpenStreetMap editors simply by uploading it to Mapillary. Don’t wait until disaster strikes—do it today because it both helps prepare for crisis situations and thus reduce damage, and also improves the daily lives of so many people.
So whether you represent just yourself, an organization, or a company, think about it. What can you do to help today?