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Brain Off » 2009 » October :: Mikel Maron :: Building Digital Technology for Our Planet

Archive for October, 2009

MapAction uses OpenStreetMap for Philippines Response

MapAction has deployed to the Philippines to support the United Nations response to the Tropical Storm Ondoy disaster in the Philippines. They’re producing many map products, distributed through ReliefWeb and are using OpenStreetMap data collected by the incredible and resilient OpenStreetMap Philippines community.

I hope this makes a small difference to the work there, to help everyone there affected by the disaster.

This is a big result of several years work by the OpenStreetMap community to make open data comprehensive and usable enough for places where it’s needed most .. the places most vulnerable, and also least mapped. It’s taken a lot of effort to listen to the intense requirements of disaster response, and likewise, for forward thinking responders to understand the value of OSM. All “good news”, but of course the floods in Manila are just one of several sudden onset disasters the world face right now, and the unfortunate fact is that they will happen again. This positive step, to my mind, means that we’re just a little bit more prepared.

I really admire how MapAction works (and wish I had taken the chance to train with them when I lived in the UK). They quickly respond to disasters in the first crucial moments, collect data and create maps. They’re agile, but still understand well institutional needs. Mostly, their tools are ESRI oriented, but they have a desire to learn. I expect they used the Shapefile exports from Cloudmade.

This kind of use of OSM, roads for background contextual data in a PDF, is just a first step. OSM is figuring out how to make paper products, and integrate many web and mobile toolkits into deployable, off the grid, interactive applications. We’re developing techniques for authorities to approve revisions of OSM. We’re working closer with responders, in forums they’re familiar with, and soon enough the PDFs on ReliefWeb will contain the message “if you want to download or edit the data in this map, just open this url”. Disasters inevitably strike hardest on the poor, especially the improvised urban living of slums, and we’re working to map these invisible places. Check into Humanitarian OSM Team for more.

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