UK Flood Mapping

This thread about UK flood mapping on the OpenStreetMap mailing list demonstrates that OpenStreetMap is one of the best angles to approach mapping for disaster response. Even here in the UK, there’s surprisingly few resources giving a comprehensive, up to date, spatial view of the events.

BBC Berkshire published a Google MyMaps of the floods and correspondents reports. Simple tools and easy to keep up to date. Possible to launch a collaborative version, if there was a suitable center of gravity (BBC certainly has this). However pins on the map soon overwhelms the interface, and the number of annotations is limited by GMaps memory limits. Conceptual tip of the hat to Richard Fairhurst’s talk on Cartography vs. Mashups — and the BBC flood map definitely illustrates that some information belongs deeper in the base layer (like flood warning areas) and that toggled layers are crucial for filtering data in mashups.

If this sort of data is stored and visualized in the base layer, Frederik Ramm explores the implications for storing temporarily limited data. While OSM is a wiki with an archive, it doesn’t really handle change connected to specific moments in time. Roads are flooded for only so long. Here in Brighton, one of the core roads is reduced to one lane for a year while the Victorian Sewer is replaced. The changes need to be marked as impermanent. Also an issue in representing historic maps — I’m interested in producing historical literature maps of London, and that data needs proper tagging to show validity in only certain time slices.

The floods again highlight issues with closed government data. The Environment Agency has come under criticism for restricting use of flooding data after the floods last month in the North. Information about places likely to flood, houses built in flood plains, is crucial for individuals and society to prepare for and prevent disasters. This is the crucial Analysis phase so ignored in neogeography approaches.

And, pure crowd sourcing with flickr maps does bring up impressively accurate and informative results.what is secured loanday pay wide loan worldloan william ford d forgiveness federalwendy wilson school sloan countywisconsin va loans schoolloan payments work outclass world inc home loansworldwide loans personal Map


  1. GeorgeOfTheJungle said,

    August 6, 2007 @ 10:03 am

    Google can provide nice views of land/man-made features of interest to the viewer; it can provide simple routing from one point to another in a limited way; and can allow push-pins to be inserted to later locate points of interest. It can do other things, like fly-throughs; and link images and video clips to a location. But that’s it. It provides instant gratification with not much thought-process depth. (“Oh wow! There’s our swimming pool, Janet. Brilliant, eh?”)
    And this is what the hype is based on – instant gratification, which is what the advertising world has been thrusting upon humanity since the advent of television.
    GIS, on the other hand, allows the qualified and experienced geographer/cartographer/spatial analyst to do more than just mapping or looking at things. GIS allows sophisticated spatial anlysis; it allows exploring “what if..” geographical questions; it allows extraordinary spatial modelling; it can develop intricate visualizations based on analysis between data layers; it can do an anlysis between various layers; and come up with the best location for a new Bank branch based on the analysis of various data factors (travel distance, foot traffic frequency, customer demographics, availabilty of competitive Bank branches and so on).
    If someone could provide me with relatively accurate elevation data (at the 1:25,000 scale) of one of the valleys affected by flooding, then I can provide the author of this page with accurate flood zones (10-, 25-, 50-, 100-, 250-, and 750-years event flood zones. These may be of interest to catographers reading this.

  2. Mike said,

    August 7, 2007 @ 10:07 am

    Hi, we (MapAction) followed the recent UK flooding with some interest and were tentatively involved at an early stage with helping to map the situation (

    I too was impressed with the BBC mash-up, a good use of collaborative information sharing (not really mapping) and yes, given some decent data we could all come up with nice flood maps. But the point is … in the UK there are agencies which are publicly funded to do this kind of thing, there are well-rehearsed scenarios, contingency plans etc. but what happened? Where were their maps? Why was data sharing so poor?

    At one point we attempted to start geo-coding Severn Trent’s list of bowser locations using a combo of Google Map, and (often inaccurate – as it turns out these location descriptions were provided by the lorry driver on his return to base) but this list of 900 was so fluid (sorry no pun) that it was a hopeless task in a traditional GIS sense. By the time we had a finished shape file it had all changed plus … what good is knowing WHERE a bowser is if you don’t know that it’s been filled or not! In the end we produced a few kml feeds but then gave up. Some else tried this too (see

    In conclusion, yes it is nice that folk take it upon themselves to do mash-ups in times of crisis (that good old British war-time spirit) but why should they? The UK tax-payer is apparently paying for this capability already!

  3. mikel said,

    August 8, 2007 @ 11:02 am

    Both comments are interesting criticisms of a bottom up approach to disaster response. One take is that the proper tools are complicated and should be in the hands of professionals. The other is that this is really a responsibility of the government, especially in a very functioning government.

    Both GIS and government are going through changes, whether they like it or not. And those changes wouldn’t be happening unless there was a need for a better way of doing things. Disasters are so extreme, a traditional view of how these domains function is quite entrenched and that extreme is convincing. It’s also one reason why I’m interested in mapping and information technology in disasters — if new approaches can be shown to be useful here, than certainly they’d be useful in less extreme situations.

    “Agile geography” is a process. Years have been spent making easy for anyone to put their stuff on a map, and that’s been done. It’s an achievement but not the goal. I don’t believe communicating in maps, and analysing in maps, should require any special training or exclusive domains. Rather this is a challenge for those that know about spatial analysis, or learning about spatial analysis, to make those tools more accessible. I’m all for helping bring about the cult of the amateur.

    In the process, we’ve uncovered new and better ways of sharing information. Much of this is based on the accumulated knowledge of the web. Applying that wisdom to maps is what it’s all about.

    So yes, the UK government had failings in communication and data sharing. That’s because they haven’t listened to the wisdom of the web either, and I’d guess are still applying a “top-down” approach to sharing data and coordinating. Governments and crisis responders can work in a more distributed fashion, and information will flow more effectively. Even the UN has started to recognize as such, with pilot disaster information sharing projects based on GeoRSS,

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